Jim Donaldson, Weber Shandwick : The brave new world of PR

To stay ahead, consultancies must constantly reinvent themselves and reshape their skills.

Jim Donaldson, Weber Shandwick : The brave new world of PR
Jim Donaldson, Weber Shandwick : The brave new world of PR

When I joined the PR industry a reasonably long time ago, our role was fairly clear - we did the media relations, perhaps supplemented with the odd event, sponsorship or stakeholder outreach. We used to fight for the attention of CEOs and other senior managers to justify resource and support. We knew we were making a difference, but we often struggled to show how and used media results as the most obvious way to prove our worth.

I was particularly struck by how much things have changed when E.ON showed there was virtually no correlation between news coverage and customer opinion on the Kingsnorth issue. A huge corporate activity had been ignored by many of the people who were likely to be directly affected. So although Guy Esnouf is absolutely right when he tries to balance E.ON's media coverage, it is clear that we are in a new world.

The implications for those of us who are corporate communicators are legion. We must have high quality research to help us shape strategies and understand the huge breadth of stakeholders now in play. We must be at the cutting edge of social and traditional media. We must deliver across geographies, disciplines, issues, audiences and channels. And we must be flexible and adaptable in the way we deliver all of those things.

But we must also constantly reinvent our relevance and reshape our skills to ensure that we can remain ahead of the game. This is even more important for those of us in the consultancy business. In many ways, our competitive environment now includes many of the clients we traditionally used to work with. They have built their in-house teams to cover a number of the regular tasks that agencies undertook. As headcounts have increased, so the ways of working with consultants have changed. Clients clearly want a new type of expertise - skills that they do not have and a depth of knowledge, experience and contacts that they cannot afford to have on staff full time.

There has been considerable debate in PRWeek and elsewhere about new models. Whether it is what we are doing at Weber Shandwick with Creation @ Weber Shandwick - our full-scale, end-to-end brand experience business - or some of the other initiatives, there is no doubt that we are in a moment of hugely significant change as an industry. However, we must not lose track of what else we must do to change the way we provide the best service to our clients - and so creating success for ourselves as corporate comms consultants.

To steal from E.ON, for me this means solving our own key 'trilemma': understanding our clients' businesses and industries in a way we have never done before; providing specific dedicated senior expertise in areas such as crisis management, CSR, digital and internal comms; and continuing to be relevant in a globally connected and instant media world.

Over the past few weeks, we have restructured our corporate teams at Weber Shandwick to tackle these challenges head on. We are building on our current strong sector expertise and recruiting where there are gaps. We are releasing our senior specialists from any tasks that take them away from servicing their clients or building on their own skills. And we are connecting with our network around the world in innovative ways.

I don't claim to have all the answers, but there is no doubt that as we reach this tipping point in the comms industry we all need to understand how times have changed. And by how much too.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

What is the best example of a company that has planned its internal comms strategy to fit with its wider corporate reputation?

I have been impressed by the way in which Tesco is using Every Little Helps internally. The simplicity of the positioning must be a huge advantage with more than 300,000 staff, lending itself to a broad range of activities.

Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

Where Eagles Dare. A much-loved classic that is full of surprises and worth going back to again and again. We are not afraid of taking on the trickiest challenges and realise we need to innovate to succeed. And clearly I am Richard Burton.

Jim Donaldson is executive vice-president of corporate comms,EMEA, Weber Shandwick.

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