Tagged: agencies

R/GA’s disruptive trends

Most predictions and trends articles are glib headline-grabbers that cue clueless nodding, but no real grasp of what they mean (variations of “digital is over” or “Snapchat is the new Facebook”) or shallow and obvious (“wearables will be big” or “mobile is getting bigger”) – but Bob Greenberg of R/GA gets down to disruptive trends and what they will mean for the agency business in an piece for Campaign Brief Asia.

Here’s my re-mix/commentary on the five trends he mentions.

Clients will change their businesses to be less reliant on advertising. This is the crumbling of the pack ice beneath the feet of the old-model advertising. The more customer and innovation focused you are, the less important advertising becomes. The more you have in-house teams and tech for media buying, or put them under the supervision of editors, the less you need an ad agency.

Wearables (and other devices) have engagement built in… This is a much more useful train of thought than “how do I build me some wearables” (successor to the “how doI build me some apps/websites/microsites” impulses of old. What will be possible – not in the sense of Groupon tattoos that vibrate when there’s a two-for-one offer on in a nearby shop – in terms of how you engage with the customer.

Ember

Greenberg uses the example of R/GA client Nike’s Fuelband. I don’t have one, but I do sport a Jawbone Up and I can say that I check in and engage with that brand at least a few times a day as I log calories and check on progress. Up have earned (see below) my attention by being useful again and again. It’s an excellent app.

A much more expensive, advanced and yet less connected device – my DSLR camera – might get used a lot, but I never interact with that brand other than to subject myself to ten minutes painful form-filling to try and get the cash-back I was promised at point of sale. (The sales promotion is actually damaging my perception of the brand, feeling as I do now, a little bit conned.)

Similarly awful is the Blu-Ray Disc player and indeed disc, which every time I try to access services online with (say downloading the movie I have paid for as part of a triple-play offer disc from the company). I resent each poorly designed stage of the experience and each grubby grab for my personal data that is requested for the thing I have already paid for.

Both of the latter brands – Sony and Nikon, since you ask – appear to see digital, online, as a bit of promotion on top of their product. Jawbone and Nike see the digital experience as part of their product and an opportunity to bond with their customer.

Agencies will get into the transformation business. Yep. “Transformative digital” is one of the three key elements of our strategy – the others being “customer first” and “earn advocacy”. If you put the customer first and commit to earning their advocacy in your marketing and your business, the result is transformative.

Big data = earned data. Earned data is a lovely thought – you earn the right to gather customer data, both by implicitly by earning their attention and engagement and – esepcially as people begin to control more of their personal data – explicitly by asking for their trust both in your organisation and that giving you data will give them some value in return. Brilliant Noise’s second strategic pillar is “earn advocacy”.

Sustainability is growth. At Brilliant Noise we talk about long-term value as the focus for our work with clients. Sustainability isn’t something we have talked about in this context, but at a strategic and practical level, it needs to be part of the conversation. In fact, if it absent we aren’t really talking long-term at all.

Greenberg mentions the rejection of non-sustainable brands by millennial consumers. I’m not sure this is true, however much we wish it to be the case. Sustainability needs business leadership as much as it does consumer pressure on governments and corporations.

Back to PR and the future

A week or so back, I was at the PRCA conference The Future of PR, as part of a panel discussing how agencies are changing.

Danny Whatmough had invited me to take part in a panel discussion following the presentation of a survey of PR agencies and clients.

Technically, I left the PR industry in 2006 when I joined Spannerworks and founded what would become a social media and content practice at iCrossing (after the latter bought the former). Now I’m working with the Brilliant Noise with team creating an integrated digital marketing model of which PR is an important element and I’m also a non-executive at Liberate Media, an online communications agency that is built around PR as a discipline. It feels like a completing circle – PR’s back on my mind.

The story I was telling myself about PR in 2006 when I left and she remains the same in 2013. Because of its management consultancy aspects, the fact that it sees itself as a management discipline as well as a marketing discipline and its expertise in earning attention through content and distribution networks PR can be a leader in the marketing mix.

One delegate said to me after the panel that the conversation felt similar to the one the industry had been having since 2008. It was characterised by questions about how PR could grow and self-doubt and criticism of its failure to claim bigger budgets and a more central role in the marketing mix. How can PR grow and evolve? How does it need to adapt to a world where social media can be as important as traditional media?

These are tough questions, but they may be the wrong questions for PR professionals and agencies to ask themselves.

There are two paths open to in-house and agency professionals alike. They can lead from a strategic point in the mix, or they can become an expert discipline in media relations and integrate tightly with the other aspects of the marketing mix i.e. SEO content UX social media etc. The key to success will not be competing with other elements of the earned media mix, but collaborating with them.

It becomes increasingly unhelpful to ask which of marketing-communications disciplines has primacy as they each depend on one another fro success in earning the attention of customers and being part of an integrated approach.

In the survey which Danny Whatmough of Ketchum presented there was a fascinating question about whether the term “PR agency will still exist in 5-10 years time. Almost 40% of respondents felt that there would not be.

There was also a telling quote from one client: “The [agency] offer needs to be across communications and engagement and all its disciplines – not just narrow PR.”

I felt it was important to point out to the audience that there was also no certainty that there would be any such thing as an SEO agency, a digital agency, or what state of media agencies would be in, as their business becomes automated, assimilated into Google (and other “stacks”) and large clients increasingly look building media buying capabilities in house.

When there are pitches these days PR agencies find themselves up against creative, digital, media and any number of other disciplines. As Alison Jeremy, director of communications at the NSPCC said – “I’m just interested in who has the best idea.”

The upshot is that all of the communications and marketing mix are up for grabs – as is all of business. The disruption of the web is not localised to something that we call PR – it is disrupting every aspect of business commerce and culture.

The stakes that we are playing for are as large as we want them to be. If we talk about innovation in an incremental way – slightly better PR, slightly better advertising, slightly better promotions – then will we’re all missing the real opportunity. The opportunity is to reinvent how organisations talk to the customers.

That may not involve any think all PR or marketing or SEO or advertising in ten years time. Of course it may well do, but the power balances the way that organisations think about this process of engaging with the customers will be radically different.

Is the future bright for PR? The future for the people and the organisations that service the public relations needs of clients today are as bright as they want them to be. Danger and opportunity – you get to choose how you see the current great disruption.

Twitter… witter… itter… tter… er.

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Image: Beware the Echo… (Credit: Zorilla)

Tom‘s an echo-chamber refusenik, which is one of several good reasons I make a point of reading everything he posts on his blog Usable Interfaces. He’s a guard against lazy thinking, re-Tweeted half-thoughts and emergent untested aphorisms.

Take his latest broadside – “Just because you can” – against Twitter noise in the UK marketing networks. Basically he’s taking issue with the idea that agencies *should* have a Twitter voice and that the longevity and frequency of that voice will show you how good they are at social media stuff (this also chimes with my own suspicion of Twitter lists as meaning anything – how can you benchmark behaviour in a single way when people have so many different ways of using it?).

I’ll pick you out a few challenges and warnings that might shake you out of sleepwalking into a world where you declare microblogging to be the answer to the agency world’s ills:

  • “…it’s also fair to say that the mere presence or absence of a twitter stream does not confirm or deny a reasonable approach to the medium – just as the presence of a brain does not imply brain activity.”
  • “…isn’t ‘thought leadership’ something that PR people invented in the late 90s…. I mean the concept that a single thought-leading idea will be used in marketing or PR. Isn’t is an idea precisely oriented to single-track mass media of which Twitter is the antithesis?”
  • “…the benefit of Twitter in terms of promoting our agency is that people can see that there is a great deal of (leading) thought going on, and they can get involved in those thoughts and start a debate. But EMC Conchango as an entity doesn’t have a single view on anything. It’s got 400 views.”
  • Having a single Twitter voice for his agency “would be a denial of thought, and certainly wouldn’t be an indication of our leadership position. Unless we were following the North Korea model.”

Cheers, Tom – thanks for the challenges and keeping us intellectually honest.