Bibi Hilton, GolinHarris: Time to attract specialists

Agencies must recruit dedicated specialists to create exciting written and film content.

Oddly for a consumer PR agency, we're based in the heart of London's legal profession on Gray's Inn Road, rather than in the West End. And it occurred to me when thinking about this article that consumer PROs actually have a lot in common with barristers. We have day jobs that are about influencing people into a particular way of thinking. We are part of professions that many see as dying and outmoded.

While barristers are facing this challenge head on to reinvent themselves as 21st century advocates, consumer PROs' response to the changing media landscape often feels tokenistic. Setting up an agency Twitter feed or hiring a team of 'cool digital people' are short-term and superficial responses to the changes impacting our industry. So, like our barrister neighbours, we need to completely reinvent our model and by doing so create real differentiation from the other disciplines encroaching on our territory. Applying some 'Gok Wan magic' is not enough.

The currency of consumer PR has always been compelling story-telling that influences and engages a specific group of people. This heritage means we are the one discipline that has the expertise to develop ideas and content that work across paid-for, owned or earned channels. Whether it's in print, TV or digital, the media agency does not have the capability to create the story that gives life to the media buy. At the same time, despite all the hype, most ad agencies are still reaching for the safety of the 30" TVC script as their first port of call. Digital agencies are strong on technical design and development, but lack the discipline to develop and maintain online conversations. This is where we come in.

Increasingly, GolinHarris is working alongside clients' media buyers to ensure paid-for media partnerships also deliver across owned and earned channels, so our clients are maximising their return on investment. We look at how we can leverage the outlet's talent, negotiate earned media as part of the package and drive traffic from the partner to the client's owned channels. This is increasingly standard practice in FMCG and a trend that is spreading to other consumer brands as PR ceases to operate in a silo and ceases to be seen as 'just media relations'.

To develop these best-in-class integrated campaigns that leverage owned, earned and paid-for channels together, we need best-in-class specialists. We need to fundamentally change the way our profession works to appeal to digital designers and developers, to script or copy writers and film or content producers. If we cannot attract these specialists, we cannot evolve and deliver what clients expect and need from us. We will become an industry of generalist dinosaurs still writing obsolete press releases. Working with true specialists is important, but it is critical PROs also have the strategic planning skills to ensure the most influential channels are used to tell that story to the right audience.

In the future, we will still need to communicate our client's messages to the relevant target audience in some format - it's just this is more likely to be a piece of content created by a film producer, than a press release written by an account handler. We will still need to talk to the media - but our remit will be to talk directly to consumers. We will no longer be teams of account handlers, but agencies full of dedicated specialists creating exciting stories and content that resonate with specific audiences. What will we call ourselves? Comms consultants? Integrated marketing specialists? I'm afraid I don't know the answer, but one thing is for sure - if we don't change, we're dead.


Which consumer trends (social, economic or political) are having the greatest influence on your current campaigns?

Sustainability is becoming a mainstream concern. FMCG brands now ask us for consumer campaigns that focus on upcycling packaging or communicate the provenance of their ingredients. Also, appetites are Increasing for premium FMCG products. In the current climate, consumers are spending less going out and less on high ticket items, but they are 'treating' themselves more with premium everyday products, such as chocolate and ice-cream. FMCG clients are tapping into this and we are working on several premium NPD launches.

If your agency was an animal, which would it be and why?

I'd like us to be a chameleon for obvious reasons. I'm not sure we're there yet but it's something to aspire to.

To which three consumer brands are you most personally loyal?

Anya Hindmarch, Waitrose and Marmite.

Bibi Hilton is head of consumer at GolinHarris

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