My 10 years recap in the Communications industry


My 10 years recap in the Communications industry is a tribute to the profession I’ve mastered at the highest sophistication and the creative business ideas’ operation I love so much. But it’s not enthusiastic. Something isn’t right…

My 10 years recap in the Communications industry

I’ve been around for long. From M&A’s and Crisis, up to building global platforms for off-and-online One Brand. Worked with 10 agencies on a variety of expert areas, rejuvenating my competence and worldview. What I have in mind to share is sad. It speaks for the profession I’ve learned and evolved with.

It’s the ideas and people business, now managing new realities and tasks; harder and more challenging than ever. But it’s my world, my family and it must improve and fix a lot of routines.

First, the “Client” is in a warp

As long as Companies continue to look on the top-line (inclined to further cost reductions), they neglect two major business areas: the Brand and the Transformation (business and digital). Brands are not in good shape, and transformation is needed to attain the Growth opportunity.

A death spiral: Clients reduce budgets, straining agencies’ health, while they ask for ‘miracles’ in all channels, at low external outreach costs and the best reputation builders. If it was that easy, then all would be an Apple… It will continue like this for at least 5-10 years.

Companies not fit for Growth

Companies don’t follow a long-term view of the Brand, the Strategy direction and a clear path in their online presence (own, native, social). I have many examples from peers and old-colleagues in Italy, Romania, Greece, Israel and more.

If you don’t transform, or you do it under pressure; if you ‘hide’ from external outreach to survive first; if you’re under market pressure …then Growth isn’t a coherent brief to agencies, and they can’t deliver on a (missing) strategy.

Global studies show that companies are not fit for growth, primarily due to internal misperformance and not “listening” to customer needs. Check your marketing budget for own media, customer data management, and talent …these reflect your growth priorities

Communication teams still in silos

Different departments, roles, HR-employer, digital, corporate and they all don’t even have a common editorial board, resulting in low outcomes or more clutter on their messaging.

“I’m digital”, “Your corporate theme is boring”, “I’m doing paid, but it’s not my job to look in customer complaints”, “I’m doing PR, SEO is your job”. The list of discordance is very big. Strategic view? Long-term?

Teams are missing out on a key advantage: the ability to communicate effectively (and coordinated by One orchestrator…). New research in June-July 2017 from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reveals that brands have greater revenue growth when companies use a networked marketing structure with cross-functional teams, as opposed to matrixed organizations, top-down and “dotted line” reporting. Only 38% of communications teams belong to a (transformed) networked* structure.

* Networked, transformed CMO organization: One Communication, One Brand, One unit, many teams of specialists-generalists

Customer briefs

I’ve seen from peers (and in my teams) awful, rough, unprofessional briefs asking to move mountains with a fork! …”We want thousands of things in own-earned-paid by tomorrow; manage our FB page; create new content, but …we don’t have the budget, so cut on costs.”

In the last six months, supporting two PR agencies, it was sad to see that customer briefing is awful and tactical-only (revealing the absence of strategic view) and long-term issues to fight for.

Communications don’t own and manage all touchpoints

Due to the ‘silo’ mode and some old-fashioned practices, the entire Marketing & Communication (client) teams need to know about, understand, and have the ability to manage all the high-impact touchpoints that form the customer experience. I repeat One Brand, One Vision, One theme…

Cost pressure hurts Talent & Ideas

There are jobs, but at lower salaries, lower training, lower mentoring (on-the-job). Everyone is under a continuous ‘crisis’ running like hell, without looking into measured outcomes, skills, and team’s coordination. The agencies I’ve seen in Southeastern Europe now regroup, unifying off-and-online tasks. The so-called ‘heritage’ comms houses (the big names) are heavy and fight more for the paid media, now transferred to online only. Setting standards? No, they don’t!

It’s the same phenomenon I’ve lived in the old-advertising days when the price war sustained the position of each owner, but the market at the end lowered its competence, creativity, and strategic skills.

Owners & Chiefs manipulate the ideas’ “production”

In my last six months, working as an external resource to PR agencies and Customers, I was discouraged to see that still, the experienced old-timers dominate the strategic direction, the ideas’ pitch process, and the creative execution of all activations. It might be explained by ego-postures or low skills in their teams, but in this way, the industry isn’t progressing.

I like it. I don’t. We reviewed it internally. I know my CEO’s (of my Customer’s) brief and expectation, it won’t work.

Not so good Creative part

All the Marketing Directors I meet tell me (and it’s a global issue) “we’re not satisfied with our content”. Partially their (strategic) mistake, but the chaotic existence of 2-3 agencies, with possibly conflicting briefs, and some external outreach strategy gaps, you have low creativity (creativity that brings growth, satisfaction, recall, and communities’ engagement).

We need more Data analysts and Strategy planners in PR.

Paul Holmes

Marketing & PR & Sales closer together

Few realize that now PR is the unifying Strategy-Brand-Corporate-Digital content “hub”. If the challenge for companies is to present a single face to the world and speak with One Voice, then why companies employ 3-4 agencies without one strategy direction and omnichannel themes?

No Digital / UX / UI / Social isn’t on their own. How much corporate and brand strategy can they act on their own? How far? Will they be on their own if a Crisis knocks your door? Of course, it’s a new world and expertise out there, but companies are building and investing in perception, satisfaction, and sales growth as one-view. Come on…

I still fancy the days where we called in the same room (for 6 months’ period) all agencies around the same table: Consultants, PR, Content, Digital, Analytics. The outcome was great, because each asset was on-brief, on-strategy, on off-and-online formats.

Roles in e-commerce, CRM/loyalty/customer experience, and shopper/channel not in the strategic view

If PR is the one-stop-shop and CMO organization is to transform for higher impact, then how do you explain that e-commerce, CRM, website content isn’t on the core team? I’ve been presented with three cases recently and I was knocking my head. Recipes for disaster…

Specific roles for growth

When we planned the global Ericsson CMO transformation we’ve introduced one unit, many roles, but the emphasis was given to roles in sales’ leads (customer marketing), digital demand generation, content management/writing, and marketing analytics – all under one roof!

Clients still pursue the in-house agency model

The presence of an in-house agency does not secure growth and expertise. Higher-growth organizations tend to use both internal and external agencies while lower-growth organizations rely most heavily on external agencies. How do you get fresh perspectives, experience and best cases in your internal routine?

CMO & Corporate don’t embrace the data

Customer understanding is now the heavy focus on data. Marketing must own the customer data and improve its proficiency to gain valuable insights. Furthermore, this capability should remain in-house for security reasons. But agencies aren’t really called to support as partners, and so they don’t invest talent, ideas, and content combining SEO and social.

The new type of Crisis management

The IoT era brings large implications to PR & crisis management by increasing Internet security risks and hacks. Personal data, financial cases (ie. Halifax) and government issues. Hackers can now access connected devices, just as they have hijacked computers, to launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack and knock out a company’s website. Be prepared!

I’ve seen lower and lower skills

Is it harder to find strategic thinking or content skills? Communication studies show that the important skills are: Strategic planning, Written communications (for all formats – HUGE issue…), and Digital-and-content development

I hope that in the next few years Communications & PR will find a new breed of executives combining technology skills, digital technical competence, and with a sense of social purpose.

The Comms industry is falling behind

Huge challenges: talent, creativity, content, strategic skills, leaders’ absence from the scene, and companies under pressure. Tough… CEO’s in medium and large companies turn now to business and transformation consultants.

Sales, HR, Customer, Retail, Sourcing … all need PR support but Communications function doesn’t support them as needed.

Then, the what’s next might be difficult: there are a handful of companies disrupting the status quo. Everything from monitoring like Brandwatch and Reportbrain (an excellent Greek startup), analytics services, to media relations services such as PressFriendly, or services that help agencies and big brands manage their data and connections like IrisPR.

Some agencies and customers adopt newer technology solutions to help stretch their budget. The early adopters could breathe life into an industry that has so many issues.

Have patience

Meaningful organizational change is a journey—often a long one. Restructuring Marketing & Communications (client-agency) can take a long time, but it’s important to set everyone’s expectations accordingly and both Client and Agency start taking concrete actions on their transformation journey.

For me, after 10 years and hundreds of evidence, it is obvious that the industry needs a step-change in the way the organization thinks, the attitudes of team members, and rebuild the “Customer-first” culture. PRCA, the UK’s professional body for the PR industry, is looking for years at what the PR agency of the future might look like. What do you think?

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