Election, digital, and content creation were the buzzwords of 2012, but as the new year approaches, what trends will dominate the changing state of comms?
Many people breathed huge sighs of relief at 11:15pm on Tuesday, November 6, when TV networks called the election for President Barack Obama, not because they were particularly partial to either side, rather because it signaled the end of an interminable process that dominated the whole year.
The politics were a tedious but necessary demonstration of the democratic process in action. But the result highlighted several issues that marketers and communicators already know too well. Mitt Romney may not have noticed, but America has changed. The 2011 Census showed the increasing influence of the fast-growing US Hispanic population, which was then, unsurprisingly, mirrored in the election. And no marketer would ever underestimate the influence of women in selling popular “products” such as soap, automobiles, or a new president.
Voting patterns also underlined the views of American youth, many of whom are totally comfortable with gay marriage, the legalization of cannabis, and, particularly, the ubiquity of digital and social media.
It was telling that Pew Research Center analysis based on exit poll data from the National Election Pool found 18- to 29-year-olds, who represented 19% of the electorate in 2012, voted 60% for the Democrats versus 37% for the GOP. Obama's team better tailored its outreach to this audience. Outside the US, millions celebrated the re-election of a man they perceive as a more credible president.
It's a cultural context that smart marketers, communicators, and PR pros already recognize. The trends toward globalization, digital, social media-led conversations, the impact of women, and growing populations such as Latinos are producing major opportunities for brands, corporations, and organizations, but also major challenges – especially for the agencies servicing them.
Mark Hass, president and CEO of Edelman US, returned from Asia in May to take on his new role, having spent three years as president of Edelman China. He sees more similarities than differences between the two markets.
“The things that are happening in China are an early warning system for the US,” he says. “I went over there focused on clients. But there is a talent shortage for firms: digital is eating everything. I quickly realized I didn't have any people to do the work. I effectively became chief talent officer and spent my time trying to recruit people. If you can build teams in Asia, you can find the clients.”
Back in the US, Hass realized the portions of the communications business with the best growth possibilities have the same talent crunch, especially in digital on the West Coast and in New York City. “Clients are lining up,” he adds. “But the talent shortage is limiting our ability to grow. The skills required now are more digital or data-oriented; we're competing with digital and tech startups.”
Clients are also demanding a more integrated approach to their communications needs.
Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms, noticed in the organization's Q3 survey that 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed clients are looking for more integrated solutions. “Agencies recognize that clients will take good ideas from wherever. Firms of all sizes have to offer a wide range of solutions,” she explains.
A side effect of the drive to integrate is an increase in the involvement of procurement departments in the communications process. “It's gone from being a big agency issue to one all firms have to deal with,” adds Cripps. “It is becoming more pervasive in the client world.”
Cripps echoes Hass' experience that firms are recruiting very different types of people. “It is incumbent upon the learning and development people at agencies to look at maintaining culture, training, and learning and development programs,” she says. “Talent officers are focusing more on the culture within agencies [to retain good people.]”
New York is a particularly brutal marketplace for talent, with PR firms competing against the rapidly expanding operations of Facebook and Google as well as big digital marketing shops. “Digital is on fire,” notes Hass. “Digital strategy gets us in the door; then we roll out digital execution and content generation.”
“Community management and monitoring is becoming more commoditized,” he adds. “But it is very complex, especially across different geographies.” Cripps agrees social media counseling especially will become more important. “There is a great opportunity to offer both counseling and implementation, but firms need to do both,” she says.
“Content” has to be the biggest buzzword in PR this year, with every communicator and marketer evangelizing the need to turn their brands and companies into “producers,” the term Procter & Gamble's global brand building officer Marc Pritchard uses to describe his communications team.
Quality content is vital
But while content is a significant trend that can produce major return on investment, Ogilvy Public Relations' global CEO Christopher Graves, a former TV network news chief, points out that the key is to create quality and effective content, not indulge in “vanity publishing.”
“The rush is on for every company to position itself as a media firm,” he says. “But just because you can create content doesn't mean it is effective or good. I worry about the other C-word: crap. Just because you can blog or do smartphone videos, it does not make you Melville or Spielberg.”
For Hass, the advantage of a network as big as Edelman is that it can “implement social media programs globally by taking them from the center and managing it around the world.”
But Hass told agency boss Richard Edelman he [Hass] should be the last ex-pat running the Chinese business. “People need to be well-versed in local markets but also internationally,” he explains. “The challenge is to prepare the next generation of leaders in China – they have to work elsewhere in meaningful positions.”
He also believes American employees still have a US-oriented point of view and need more integrated thinking when working internationally.
Fleishman-Hillard's president and global CEO Dave Senay highlights the migration to “more integrated higher-value propositions” that drives such thinking. The Omnicom firm's primary growth engine since 2008 is its “million dollar multi-region clients,” 40% of which Senay says now have headquarters outside the US.
It's evidence that, while PR pros may be way ahead of the game compared to the GOP, they still have a way to go to genuinely deliver a service mix with the digital, global, and diverse underpinning and cultural references the modern client is looking for in its communications and marketing.
The following highlight some of the trends, brands, firms, and individuals worth looking out for in 2013.
The departure of the Publicis agency's president of the Americas, Jim Tsokanos, presaged the promotion of the well-regarded Wilson to the top US executive spot. She has set about repairing the firm's reputation, including building up morale. Her next task is to extend the brand of customer service she showed on the Procter & Gamble account across the whole agency.
Former PRWeek Power Lister Cutter is probably the top talent in the next wave of political aides to go on the market now that the election is over. Experience gained in the hotbed of a political campaign is highly sought after and communicators such as Cutter with a proven record of delivering when it counts will be in high demand in the private sector.
Former Thomson Reuters, FT, and IBM communicator Hunt is part of the new regime at AOL spearheaded by CEO Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington, and they are definitely shaking things up at the one-time dotcom darling now fallen on harder times – though the share price has been rising recently. Hunt's dual marketing and communications role will give her ample opportunity to help shape the next iteration of a now mature digital firm.
Ray Kerins, Joe Lockhart, Gary Stockman
These are just three of the senior PR executives who are looking for a new home at the time of writing. It will be interesting to see where the former senior Pfizer, Facebook, and Porter Novelli communicators end up.
Almost every brand or corporation is positioning itself as a content owner and this is creating great opportunities, and some challenges, for agencies as they staff up to meet the demand to help clients generate and manage content.
Some companies handle much of the process in-house, including Nissan, which poached BBC correspondent Roland Buerk to lead the Japanese auto brand's media channel as part of its global media center run by former Reuters correspondent Dan Sloan.
Facebook woke up when it realized a top-three PR firm was managing more than 130 communities for brands on the social network.
Widening its purview from the traditional ground of paid-for advertising, the Web behemoth is looking for ways to foster the genuine engagement with users that display and other ads just don't produce.
All businesses realize they now have to be part of the conversation and can no longer stand on the sidelines.
PR firms increasingly need to excel at communication skills more usually associated with direct marketing. Companies such as HootSuite, DataSift, Adobe, and Meltwater will be key partners as agencies evolve their analytics offerings to show clients hard evidence about the effectiveness of PR and the way consumers interact with brands and firms.
Nine more banks were subpoenaed this fall as part of the banking industry's Libor scandal, which dealt yet another blow to the financial industry's reputation, which is still struggling to rebuild its image after the 2008 crisis. Edelman's 2012 Trust Barometer prediction that it would take at least a decade to get the industry's reputation back on track is not looking unrealistic.
The lack of blockbuster drugs in the product pipeline means pharma firms such as Merck, Sanofi, and Mylan are doing more unbranded, general awareness campaigns around specific diseases as opposed to product-specific work.
The industry is going through another period of massive transformation with the exponential rise in consumption of electronic books.
The ongoing lawsuit between major book publishers and Apple versus Amazon is a by-product of this and will run and run in 2013 – book companies are enlisting PR support to overcome some of these challenges.
Barnes & Noble expanded its work with Fleishman-Hillard in the UK for the launch of its Nook e-reader. And then there's the likely merger of Penguin and Random House. This is going to be a busy space next year.
2011 and 2012 featured a trend for large conglomerates to break themselves into constituent parts.
ITT's split into three business units was followed by Sara Lee and Kraft both splitting in two this year. Hillshire Brands is the new name for the corporation's meat and frozen baked goods brands, while Kraft positioned its global snack business under the new Mondelez umbrella.
Next year will demonstrate whether the new arrangements have produced greater clarity with consumers and investors, and could signal to other companies with diversified offerings, such as PepsiCo, whether they should follow suit.
Procter & Gamble
The world's largest CPG company instigated big changes in an attempt to reverse its waning fortunes. It merged communications with marketing under global brand building officer Marc Pritchard and did away with the global external relations officer role held by P&G veteran Chris Hassall, who retired in June of this year.
It is prioritizing media and channel-neutral thinking, agency collaboration, content generation, and an entrepreneurial spirit as it enters its second 175 years.
CEO Bob McDonald will hope the new strategy bears fruit in 2013 to keep baying analysts and shareholders from the door in a brutally competitive market.
Post-election trends to watch
The fiscal cliff
This will definitely be a ubiquitous buzzword in 2013, causing businesses to hold back on strategy and investment because of fears the federal government won't be able to fix the US debt crisis, due to the inability of Democrats to work across the floor with John Boehner's (R-OH) Republican caucus.
A love/hate relationship has developed toward the US government as a client, with agencies excited to win lucrative contracts but frustrated at the length of time it takes to hear the status of an account. One notorious RFP took two years to award and the government canceled some due to lack of funds, which is a blow for the firms that spend hundreds of hours crafting pitches.
This is another sector that will be full of activity now the election is over and the situation somewhat clarified. Under the Affordable Care Act, healthcare providers will band together and strive to differentiate their offerings and their value proposition through effective PR and communications strategies.
Super PACs may be here to stay, but one school of thought is that they are ineffective. In the run-up to November's election the two constituencies spent $6 billion to battle themselves to a status quo – suggesting that their messaging effectively canceled each other out
Since May, the embattled electronics retailer has appointed a new CEO, senior director of PR, head of communications and public affairs, and restructured its overall comms operation.
All eyes will be on the Hubert Joly-helmed chain to see if it can restore fortunes with a revamped senior management team and fresh marcomms strategy.
The gloss around the daily deals business most definitely wore off in 2012 and principal amongst the troubled businesses within this sector was the one-time darling Groupon, which continues to see its share price and company value shrink as confidence in its business model wanes.
CCO Paul Taaffe will have his work cut out in 2013 shoring up the company's reputation and producing messaging that can help turn around the coupon firm's fortunes.
Every major agency network is scouring the PR market for acquisitions to beef up their offerings in the US and globally. In the US, smart mid-sized firms must ensure they don't get too distracted beating off the attention – wanted or unwanted – of their voracious would-be suitors.
Globally, networks must be mindful of the pitfalls of overseas acquisitions, as evidenced by Edelman's ill-fated trip into the Russian market, which ended with the Richard Edelman-owned firm closing down the agency it purchased – Imageland – and starting again.
WPP has long operated a Team Ford structure to service the Dearborn, MI-headquartered automaker's account, combining agencies across its marketing services portfolio in an integrated fashion.
More and more clients are insisting on a one-network approach to their marketing agencies, partly to save money, partly for global consistency, alignment, and continuity.
To this trend, InterContinental Hotel Group recently switched its PR account from Weber Shandwick and moved it to Hill+Knowlton Strategies, which competed against the WPP network's other PR agencies Ogilvy Public Relations and Burson-Marsteller.
Agency leadership transitions
After a period of stability among top 10 PR agency leaderships, 2012 was tectonic in its shifts.
Porter Novelli still searches for a permanent replacement for departed CEO Gary Stockman, and the longer the leadership vacuum continues the more uncertainty there will be. MSL switched out Jim Tsokanos for Renee Wilson. Burson-Marsteller replaced Microsoft-bound Mark Penn with Don Baer, and GolinHarris' second tier of global leadership completed its first year in situ, as did new Hill+Knowlton Strategies' CEO Jack Martin.
Rob Flaherty made his anticipated switch to the CEO role at Ketchum and will look to add his own stamp to predecessor Ray Kotcher's work at the Omnicom agency.
And, in November, Harris Diamond left Weber Shandwick and moved across to McCann Worldgroup. Replacing Diamond as CEO of the Interpublic Group-owned agency is longtime Weber president Andy Polansky.
In late September, the Daniel J. Edelman-owned agency opened four offices in Asia and one in Europe.
Richard Edelman has stated that he wants to turn Zeno into a $100 million agency, which is quite a goal for a firm that according to PRWeek's 2012 Agency Business Report achieved revenues just north of $14 million in 2011.
These ambitious targets will test the mettle of Zeno CEO Barby Siegel and the senior executives in the group responsible for achieving them.
The Interpublic Group-owned firm is also expanding fast across the globe, principally to follow the lead of its flagship client Procter & Gamble, which in its 175th anniversary year moved its global skin, cosmetics, and personal care operations to Singapore from its Cincinnati HQ.
It's a psychological move, but also a sign of the increasing globalization of business and, hence, the PR business. DeVries is responding to the needs of its clients, expanding to five new locations: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Singapore, and London.