Trick or treats in the digital world

A recent article in Forbes about the current state of the client-agency relationship is a good reminder of just how disruptive digital media is for those of us working in the communications profession. And while there will be tricks to adapting, long-term, the treats will be worth it.

According to Avidan Strategies, digital is not only blurring the lines between advertising and PR. It’s forcing advertising and PR agencies to rethink themselves, in terms of who does what. And perhaps more importantly, it’s pushing agencies to take a good look at how they deliver — and what they deliver — to their clients.

The shift is seismic and it will continue. As it does, here are three related shifts that we see coming fast:

-Shift from information to news. Storytelling is an over-used word that’s been co-opted lately by everyone from presentation coaches to brand strategists. However, used it in the way professional journalists use it, a ‘story’ really comes down to an idea that has inherent newsworthiness.

Going forward, we believe it will be less about which agency does what, and more about working with practitioners who know how to research, find the nugget, shape a narrative and tell a story. Each step is important. And while today, there is a lot of emphasis on the ‘telling’ of the story, we see an increased need for people who can expertly sift through the data, analyze it, do the background checks, follow the money, understand the context and figure out the difference between a reliable source and public opinion.

In the digital world, we are all shaping content for each other, constantly. And so people who know how to unfold a story, inject it with purpose and curate it so it packs a punch will be highly sought-after, for both our news and our entertainment.

- Shift from generic to authentic. A new study out yesterday points to an upward trend in consumers’ desire for authenticity.

For some consumers, authenticity is about the alignment they see between a brand’s promise and the reputation of the company that produces and markets that brand. So if the stories that are circulating about a product contradict the brand promise — or the CEO’s conduct doesn’t jibe with the stated values of her company — an authenticity gap opens up, with the online world just waiting to fill the vacuum and undermine reputations. Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Reputation Officers, their in-house teams and their agencies will assume increasing accountability for authenticity and reputation/risk management going forward.

- Shift to greater efficiency. The silos between advertising and PR, and between marketing, corporate communications and public affairs are eroding. And hallelujah!

Digital is driving the change, and what’s coming is less of an emphasis on who does what, and more of a shift towards who does it efficiently.

Assuming the underlying goal is to communicate strategically with consumers, stakeholders, employees and investors, does it really matter if the great idea comes from the in-house team, from the advertising agency or the PR consultant, or a combination of the above? It shouldn’t. What’s more, if a strong strategic idea can be integrated across different platforms by fewer people, doesn’t that make work more efficient and life easier, in the end, for our clients?

This leveling of the playing field between big and small practitioners — and between practitioners themselves — will continue. In the end, it may not mean less money spent, but it will certainly result in a more efficient, rational and streamlined use of resources from strategic development, through approval, and all the way to final delivery.

These are just a few of the treats that await. We don’t see it as a scary time. Quite the opposite: It’s a thrilling time to be on the front lines of change.




Great PR depends on smart data

We’re big believers in the power of research to establish a sound foundation for PR campaigns, employee engagement strategies and brand building opportunities.

We loved Volkswagen’s recent awareness campaign about the dangers of texting and driving for that very reason.

The same goes for a Trillium Gift of Life campaign spot that in two short minutes makes the case for needing more people to register as organ donors.

It’s pretty clear the people behind these campaigns have done their homework. They’ve researched the facts. They know the numbers. And the results of their research are compelling. We think this is a smart way to use data.

But while oftentimes numbers can spin a good story, they can also be used to grossly over-simply things. Take the announcement last week about an employee engagement strategy in which Apple and Facebook committed to paying for their female employees’ fertility treatments, ostensibly giving them the opportunity to delay having children if they chose to focus on their careers.

Does this mean that Apple and Facebook actually polled their employees and found that a majority of childbearing-age women within their ranks wants children enough to deal with the roller coaster ride of IVF? Was this strategy the outcome of extensive research into work-life balance, or did they simply look at the average age of their female employees and make some assumptions about Millennials?

And speaking of the Millennial ‘demographic’, we note that today in Philadelphia, Forbes is hosting an Under 30 Summit, and that a new study released in AdWeek talks up the tremendous opportunities for financial institutions that target Millennials with content marketing campaigns.

Is this is what data mining comes down to? It sounds a bit like old-fashioned marketing segmentation. Are all people 18-25 really so similar that they can be grouped together under the Millennial moniker? And are all women so like-minded that they can be spoken to (‘targeted’) in the same way?

Has history taught us nothing? If you’re over 50, this kind of stereotyping is called age-ism. And if you’re out-of-touch enough to be making generalizations about women on the basis of their fertility and/or reproduction, it’s called paternalism or misogyny.

The point is, if we’re smart enough — and socially evolved enough — to be able to obtain big data in the first place, can we please be smart enough to use some discernment in the way we interpret and use that data? Let’s put it in a context that’s meaningful, thoughtful and respectful.

Numbers aren’t smart all by themselves. Our job as people, and as PR people, is to make the numbers make sense in an honest way.