Editors' Choice 2011: The road ahead

Armed with confidence, bigger budgets, and social-media savvy, the PR industry is poised for one of its most exciting, fruitful years ever.

Armed with confidence, bigger budgets, and the social-media savvy to ascend the marketing ladder, the PR industry led by some noteworthy brands, firms, and people is poised for one of its most exciting, fruitful years ever. By Steve Barrett

Those who belong to the Martin Sorrell school of marketing services might surmise that 2011 is set to be an unremarkable year. The WPP boss is renowned for flagging up major events in his financial statements as drivers of activity and revenue that will fuel growth in his network of agencies. Events such as major elections, Olympics, World Cups, and other global sporting, business, and cultural events really get Sorrell's juices flowing.

While none of the above are on the schedule for the next 12 months, 2011 is set to be a landmark and watershed year, especially in the world of PR and communications.
 
If 2009 was a year of harsh recession, and 2010 one of retrenchment, the feeling is 2011 will be the year PR emerges into the sunlight and cashes in on its unique set of advantages in marketing services that are increasingly integrated and social media-focused. It is a world that takes communicators into areas they could only have dreamt of a few years ago. "The PR market is really robust, and social media is the fuel driving a lot of PR's overall growth," says Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher. "Social media and digital now impact all the different C-suite functions, not just marketing. This is a huge opportunity for PR to move beyond marketing."
Increasingly confident clients are unfastening their pocketbooks, with agency bosses noting significant budget increases late in 2010. Of course, the economic outlook is not totally positive yet. High unemployment and a worsening balance of trade still hang over the macroeconomic landscape. 

"Macroeconomic pressures won't change in 2011: this is the new normal," says Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman. "Agencies will continue to be asked to focus on ROI. None of that is going away. We won't go back to how things were."

While it's no time for complacency, an audit of senior agency executives suggests there is a new feel-good factor in play and that PR is in its strongest position in years.

Taking advantage of opportunities
Communicators can take advantage of this healthy climate if they bear a number of factors in mind when constructing strategy and campaigns.
 
Social media creates a spike in business opportunities, but companies must learn how to implement the bandwidth to deal with that increase in interaction and conversation with stakeholders internally and externally. Firms can increasingly help companies "plug in" e-commerce functionality that takes these interactions to the next stage. But a new breed of talent will be required to navigate the digital world.

"We need more creative directors, producers, content and community managers," says MSLGroup's president of the Americas Jim Tsokanos. "We are the master storytellers. We are positioning ourselves as a media creator and an earned media studio. The lines between agencies are blurring."

The WikiLeaks furor emphasized that there is no such thing as confidentiality nowadays, everything is out there. Transparency in communications is the new reality.

In a crisis, communicators can fight off misinformation by facing problems head on, being open with the media, and letting their communities do the talking for them.

This is where conversation turns into loyalty. It's not about giving stuff away: it's about rewarding loyal users and building real relationships, not "buying" engagement.

And, crucially, PR must be conducted ethically if it is to prove itself as a high-level consultancy service. There is no room for sharp practice if communicators are to cement their image as wise counselors and top-level senior strategists.
 
In 2011, the latest US Census data will be fully distributed and analyzed, casting more light on an American population that continues to evolve significantly. Smart communicators already understand these fundamental changes.

Andy Polansky, president of Weber Shandwick and 2011 Council of PR Firms chair, says: "The dynamics of marketing are clearly evolving and there is increasing spend in marketing services disciplines, which gives us the opportunity to work on substantive programs with significant budget levels, especially in the fields of corporate reputation and crisis management. People are keenly interested in working in PR now. That's pretty exciting."

Below, PRWeek earmarks companies, firms, and individuals it believes will feature heavily in this process. If they navigate the road ahead wisely, they can help build a future where PR is at the hub of a new era of brand and business communications that transcends marketing.


COMPANIES/BRANDS

PEPSICO

PepsiCo ended 2010 by acquiring Russian dairy products and fruit juice manufacturer Wimm-Bill-Dann for a reported $5.4 billion, establishing itself as the country's largest food-and-beverage business. It is an extension of its strategy to get more involved in nutrition-based beverage brands, as was its hiring of Tim Cost to oversee its evolution toward becoming the healthier food and beverage company consumers want. Cost will unite PR and government affairs and it will be interesting to see how he works with CCO Julie Hamp in 2011 to realize these aims.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

The pharmaceutical and consumer manufacturer faces many communications challenges in 2011, having been beset by numerous high-profile recalls and controversy last year that hampered its efforts to rebuild trust. Children's Tylenol is now back on store shelves and the drug giant will look to maximize the effectiveness of its marketing and communications in 2011 to help restore consumer trust in its brands.

PFIZER

The pharma giant is always worth watching, but it is set for a particularly interesting year in 2011 as its flagship drug Lipitor goes off patent in the US, punching a potential $13 billion hole in its revenue. The resultant drop in share price was reportedly one of the reasons behind the abrupt departure of CEO Jeff Kindler at the end of last year, though the transition was clearly well planned and smoothly implemented. Pfizer's $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 may provide a consumer healthcare pipeline to fill part of the gap left by Lipitor's changed status.

VERIZON

Tablet computing and mobile technology are set to continue blazing a trail in 2011, with the tablet market seemingly dominated by the 40-plus brigade and the 20-plus crowd sticking with mobile. Verizon Wireless is rumored to be announcing at CES this month that it will be offering an Apple iPhone with access to its network, now that AT&T's exclusivity with the Apple smartphone is supposedly coming to an end. This, allied to the fact that Vodafone is mulling what to do with its 45% stake in Verizon, means 2011 is set to be a busy year on the communications front for the mobile telecoms company.

 
BANK OF AMERICA

Like the auto industry, the financial services sector is on the comeback trail, as companies attempt to reinvent themselves as relevant, meaningful, purpose-driven brands. If, as rumored, Bank of America is going to be the subject of a WikiLeaks "attack" in the early part of this year, it will need to get its communications ducks in a row. The bank has reportedly already put a team together to respond and proactive response may be the order of the day.

 
AGENCIES

It goes without saying that the three US PR agency powerhouses WEBER SHANDWICK, EDELMAN, and FLEISHMAN-HILLARD will continue to dominate the agenda in 2011, as they consolidate their scale and expand their global footprints to replicate the structure large clients demand of them. There will be lots more M&A deals across the board, in the US and globally, and agencies are moving from a year of consolidation in 2010 to a year of getting out and telling stories in 2011. In other areas of agency-land, firms are either attempting to join the global big boys club or emphasizing their abilities in niches:
 

HILL & KNOWLTON

H&K has long been regarded as much stronger in Asia and the rest of the world than in the US, which was the driver behind its merger with fellow WPP shop Public Strategies in the fall of 2010. As the big players increasingly position themselves as global super brands, 2011 will be the year H&K can prove it truly belongs in this camp.

SHIFT

Previously known as a tech specialist, Shift expanded its range and won a clutch of consumer and corporate business in 2010, including work for Taser, The Home Depot, Quiznos, and Pitney Bowes. Shift also opened a New York office and continued to gain business in its tech heartland from Sony Online Entertainment and Logitech.

MSLGROUP

The Publicis agency was being marginalized as a midsize shop and made a conscious effort to try and build the scale it needs to compete on a global level. It is still in acquisitive mode and is positioning itself as a content 
producer and storyteller by investing in talent that can operate not only in the earned media space, but also paid and owned.

PORTER NOVELLI

Omnicom's third-string PR outfit has endured whispering about its future from inside and outside its home network, but CEO Gary Stockman insists "merging is not on the agenda." He is bullish about 2011, with client spending plans looking good and lots of new business activity and organic growth on the horizon. This will be a make- or-break year for this firm.

MARINA MAHER COMMUNICATIONS

Traditionally a specialist in beauty and lifestyle brands, Marina Maher is exploiting the trend for more synergies between pharma and lifestyle to win business such as Merck's women's health portfolio. The agency beefed up its healthcare and well-being practice by raiding talent from other firms in its competitive space. It also ended 2010 strongly by bagging Pernod Ricard's whiskey portfolio.

 

PEOPLE

DAVID KAMENETZKY, corporate VP, global head of corporate affairs and regulatory policy, Mars

As someone who runs global PR for a $28 billion candy, food, drink, and pet-care company, Kamenetzky is charged with navigating the maker of M&Ms through increased concerns about healthy eating and obesity, the CSR implications of the origin of its ingredients from developing countries, and internal communications in a vast decentralized global company structure.

MAGGIE FITZPATRICK, CCO, Cigna

FitzPatrick made the move into global corporate PR from the agency world in August of last year, transitioning from her previous job as EVP at APCO Worldwide. She reports directly to the global health insurer's CEO David Cordani. Cigna, one of the US' largest insurers, has been without a senior communications executive since whistleblower Wendell Potter left in 2008. FitzPatrick's task will be to steer Cigna's reputation through the controversy around the industry and ongoing health regulations in 2011.

DAN BARTLETT, president and CEO, Hill & Knowlton USA

November 2010 marked the intriguing merger of WPP agencies Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies, with the latter's Dan Bartlett stepping up to an overarching position at H&K US to add to his existing duties. The merger is designed to give H&K much-needed scale in America and it will be interesting to see what former George W. Bush adviser Bartlett has in mind in 2011 as he looks to elevate the firm's US presence to the same level as its global operations.

JODY VENTURONI, president, Weber Shandwick Southwest

Venturoni stepped up to replace the outgoing Ken Luce in Weber Shandwick's Southwest region after being number two for some years. She is one of the IPG agency's brightest stars and managed most of the large client relationships in the Southwest office, including the high-profile American Airlines account. Now is her time to show what she can do at the helm.

JUSTIN BLAKE, MD, New York corporate and public affairs division, Edelman

A 40 Under 40 honoree in 2010, Blake has been responsible for doubling profit and 20% growth in the firm's corporate and public affairs practice since he took over in 2008. He is at the forefront of the next generation of senior managers earmarked to take the independent agency forward.

Media will make news

The media world faces another year of great excitement, as well as continuing severe challenges to its business models.
 
FACEBOOK continues to conquer all with a mix of proprietary developments and other services inspired by competitors that it builds and improves on. With a huge audience, its well-established commercial relationships leverage genuine marcomms opportunities for brands and companies. And judging by Mark Zuckerberg's 60 Minutes appearance in December, Facebook's young boss is overcoming his public speaking aversion.
 
News Corp and Apple's tablet-based digital newspaper THE DAILY has been delayed, but when it finally debuts it will be one of the most analyzed and anticipated product launches of 2011. It will offer a serious clue to the news media's future.
 
If THE NEW YORK TIMES does finally go paid-for online in 2011, it will become a bellwether for the paid-content movement that many print publishers are putting their faith in to rescue their battered business models. Early signs from the Times of London, which took the plunge in 2010, aren't encouraging for executives at The Grey Lady.
 
High-profile socialite TINA BROWN finally added Newsweek to her Daily Beast empire. All eyes will be on her as she unveils her plans for the iconic brand.
 
Much is also expected of former New Yorker publisher and CondÈ Nast president DAVID CAREY, who took the chair at Hearst Magazines vacated last year by controversial New York City schools chancellor Cathie Black. The well-liked Carey has print credibility allied with genuine digital savvy.

On TV, IN CRISIS is one working title for a proposed ABC series from Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes inspired by PR legend Judy Smith. It's easy to forget that more people watch television than ever. This latest attempt to portray PR on the small screen will be watched intently by comms pros.


The agency view

JIM TSOKANOS
, president of the Americas, MSLGroup

"Storytelling is a big part of what PR does and we are uniquely qualified. But we need the skill, scale, and different talents and we must think differently to navigate earned, paid, and owned spaces."

ANDY POLANSKY, president, Weber Shandwick

"There's vibrancy in the market, with a lot of new business pitches and increasing spend among existing clients, but there are still mixed signs about economic recovery."

GARY STOCKMAN, CEO, Porter Novelli

"Clients are not sure where to go. They're putting briefs out to multiple disciplines. Ad firms are adding earned media specialists. PR must be able to articulate its USP [unique selling point]."

RAY KOTCHER, CEO, Ketchum

"In 2011, we will see the disappearance of privacy. We're living in a world of constant scrutiny where actions must match words and words must match actions. That is what good PR is about."

RICHARD EDELMAN, president and CEO, Edelman

"There will be big issues [in 2011] around the "haves" and "have-nots": 20% of people with high-school diplomas are unemployed, [compared to] 5% of those with college diplomas." 

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

News by email...