Firms want to share in customer interaction

As the number of touch points consumers interact with grows, consumer practices are realizing that investing in new expertise is a necessity.

As the number of touch points consumers interact with grows, consumer practices are realizing that investing in new expertise is a necessity.

Many practice leaders agree that the consumer space is highly profitable, and they are adding new divisions and services to remain competitive. Maggie O'Neill, director at Peppercom and its events and sponsorship arm Peppercommotions, says clients are no longer resisting experimentation with some of these new mediums. In fact, they're demanding it. "The main thing we hear from clients is that despite some pushback in the beginning, they're realizing that touch points have changed," O'Neill says. "There are all these different means of reaching people that our clients are cluing into like blogs, chat rooms, sponsorships, and some real sort of hands-on experiential marketing. That's what our clients are clamoring for from us." O'Neill says work that would have gone to a specialized agency in the past is now being handed over to them. "In the past, they'd go right to an events group to do a guerilla marketing event of some kind," she notes. "Now they're saying, 'You know our business and our PR goals, what can you help us do in this realm?' It's us taking what we know in regards to positioning and messaging and everything we do to get that big business story, and finding out ways we can turn that into a buzz marketing story." Along with Peppercommotions, the firm's PepperDigital arm creates digital dialogues directly with consumers, O'Neill notes. Mitch Markson, president of consumer brands at Edelman, notes that 30% of the agency's worldwide revenue is coming from the consumer practice. "Two [recent trends] are co-creation and a culture of sharing," he says. "Consumers want to co-create with the brand, and more brands are having to look at consumers as co-brand managers." The outreach, he notes, goes beyond focus groups to actually integrating consumers into the brand management team. "And that leads to the whole culture of sharing," he adds. "It's not about information dissemination anymore in an authoritarian way. It's about information exchange." Markson believes the effect of these trends could change the idea of how PR works. "My prediction is that there won't be any press releases in a couple of years, and there won't be any press events," Markson says. "The consumer is the journalist, editor, and photographer. This shakes everything up. You could call it, maybe, 'brand communism' because it's the democratization of information." Alissa Blate, EVP at MWW, notes that there is more business coming out of the consumer practice than ever before, and that MWW has created new divisions to meet changing client needs. "We breed that expertise within," she says. "We have several new practice areas and new individuals that we've brought on as experts in those areas." She notes the firm's new media practice, which helps clients integrate RSS feeds, podcasts, and blogs into their outreach, as well as its Mediamixx division, which handles radio promotions and broadcast services. Key points: Find the right vehicle to deliver the right message to the right audience Bloggers want to be treated like reporters when contacted by agencies Bring the brand to the consumer, rather than vice versa, through experiential marketing

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