From the editor-in-chief: Comms pros are being tested as never before

Has there ever been a more tumultuous month in the UK comms business?

In mid-June the Cannes Lions festival was suggesting (wrongly, in my view) that PR specialists struggle in creating the world’s most powerful campaigns compared with their cousins in the advertising and media consultancies.

Then this slight was largely forgotten as the industry woke up on 24 June to discover that the country had voted to Brexit, against the wishes of almost 80 per cent of comms professionals. Not only that, but a ‘remain’ campaign driven by a former PR man (David Cameron) and staffed by some of PR and advertising’s leading lights (Roland Rudd, Moray MacLennan, Jim Messina) had failed abjectly.

And then there was the ensuing political turmoil, which saw Cameron step down and the ill-fated leadership coups by two previously sure-footed communicators (Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom).

So where does all this leave us by late July?

Unfortunately, from a commercial perspective, it’s too early to tell. A number of corporations and PR consultancies are predicting a tough time ahead, while others spy new opportunities within the longer-term political and economic upheaval.

From a creative perspective, however, the fallout from Cannes suggests there are easy lessons to be learned in terms of how PR specialists present their role in brand campaigns. But the truth is 2016 did not unearth a bumper crop of campaigns that shook the world. And there is little doubt that earned, owned and shared media strategies will be more powerful than ever for enlightened clients. The priority instead must be to understand and interpret the strange political, economic and cultural zeitgeist in which we live.

And from a political perspective, isn’t it amazing that, against all odds, we find ourselves with only the second female Prime Minister (Theresa May) and the first predominantly female Downing Street comms team: Katie Perrior taking over as director of comms; Louise Hill as the PM’s chief of staff; and Lizzie Loudon as press secretary. A landmark moment for women.

So all the segments that make up the comms business – political and business leaders, advisers, corporate consultants and creatives – have been set new challenges halfway through 2016. For some it will be the test of a lifetime. It is such tumultuous times that make, or break, careers.

Danny Rogers is editor-in-chief of PRWeek UK

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