Gaining perspective on the PR industry: London exchange
Sometimes new ideas stick. They especially do when we’re influenced by them during special experiences. For me, that special experience was a recent exchange program I did in London, where I spent an entire week with our partner agency LANSONS, a member of the GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS PARTNERS network. A few new ideas have stuck with me since.
Thanks to several discussions and workshops I had with my colleagues at Lansons and with the hip consumer-facing agency HOPE & GLORY, I was able to gain a great perspective on the PR industry. The following points are some of my key learnings. They are also a fresh account about where the PR industry is going in the U.K., and where it could go for Australia in the near future:
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1. Strategic advice and creative ideas are at the centre of PR. A lot of the legwork that we do today in PR – as in all professional services – is being automated. Processes are becoming more efficient thanks to the latest digital tools and PR practitioners only need to learn how to program these tools. But what machines can’t deliver today is strategic advice. That’s where we come in. Our skillset comprises the ability to understand the interests and sensibilities of journalists and other stakeholders, as well as assessing how each action affects a company’s reputation in the context of long-term business goals. The creation of ideas to execute a strategy is also in high demand by clients from PR teams. Because of this mixed demand, the PR profession is gradually looking more like a mix between business consulting and a creative agency.
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2. PR is moving deeper into the marketing funnel. Traditionally, PR services have focused mostly in the upper layer of ‘awareness’, which is at the top of the marketing funnel, and refers to raising the profile of an organisation in the public consciousness. From my discussions with PR practitioners in the U.K., I could see that the industry is quickly moving into the next stage in funnel, which is ‘consideration’, where stakeholders develop an interest in an organisation and engage with it. A lot of this is thanks to the digital work PR companies are currently doing. There are now direct channels to engage audiences, which can be leveraged to build communities. Consumers, partners, prospects and even investors are engaged in this level and exposed to tailored messages from companies, which can lead to the deeper levels of engagement, such as purchase and advocacy.
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3. Client-only input for insights is not enough. For a long time, ad agencies have been the champions of gathering insights from customer segments, but PR is starting to catch up. Talking to our clients’ customers is a growing practice in the industry and using third-party research to inform a strategy is quickly becoming an essential input too. Expect to see a gradual shift in PR towards a service that relies less and less on client-only input.
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4. Neuroscience and behavioural economics are penetrating the PR industry. Ultimately, the whole point of Reputation Management Consulting (a concept that Lansons uses to describe PR) is to influence the perception and behaviour of others. And since there are no restraints today to borrow knowledge from other disciplines, the PR industry is now looking more closely than ever to neuroscience and behavioural economics to influence that behaviour. PR practitioners working on employee engagement and change management as well as the creative minds in the industry are some of the direct beneficiaries of these disciplines. My visit to the U.K. also coincided with the announcement of the new Nobel laureate for economics, RICHARD THALER, the “nudge” economist.” And there was a real sense of excitement about this news from some of the people at Lansons. Their enthusiasm about learning from these disciplines is genuine. So much so, that the agency decided to sponsor and launch a book this year called ‘WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO’, written by Dr. Helena Boschi, a psychologist who focuses on applied neuroscience in the workplace.
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5. Financial PR is becoming more holistic. Corporate calendar work continues to be important, but a much more holistic approach is starting to emerge in financial PR agencies. In scenarios involving M&A activity, communications programs that once only considered what market participants and the media would say about a transaction are evolving into programs that now consider all stakeholders – the local communities, political parties, unions, pension funds, and anyone that may be affected. The reason for this evolution is a practical one: if any of these parties pushes back, a transaction may be cancelled. And as society evolves to a less hierarchical structure, all these groups – who can all make themselves heard – are now more relevant for M&A activity and shareholder activism.
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Another implicit trend I experienced in this exchange program is the deep level of collaboration between companies like ours, who would send an employee to the other side of the world to learn about different processes and different perspectives on the same industry. I learned that knowledge workers, even when on the other side of the world, can benefit from discussing business themes and sharing mutual advice.
Once again, big thanks to everybody at LANSONS and HOPE & GLORY for making my time in London a very enriching professional experience. And thanks to HONNER and the GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS PARTNERS network for making this possible!
Eric Robledo is a Senior Account Executive and has been a Honner consultant since April 2015.