Big ideas and small executions

Everyone in marketing and communications is chasing the Big Idea that will supercharge their businesses or organizations, change behaviors, and add value to the bottom line.

Everyone in marketing and communications is chasing the Big Idea that will supercharge their businesses or organizations, change behaviors, and add value to the bottom line.

It's the Holy Grail that taxes in-house and agency folks in equal measure.

Yesterday's Council of PR Firms' Critical Issues Forum featured several marketers and communicators who are wrestling with this conundrum.

Procter & Gamble's VP of communications Kelly Vanasse explained how the CPG behemoth's “Thank you, Mom” idea produced $100 million in incremental sales. It was part of overall Olympic activity that added an impressive $500 million in incremental sales. That is a Big Idea in action that is producing measurable results to the bottom line, results that took some of the heat off P&G CEO Bob McDonald when the company's Q3 financials were released, also yesterday.

But at least one of the forum speakers, GM's executive director for communications strategy and news operations Greg Martin, reminded the assembled agency crowd that clients are also seeking “fewer big ideas and more short effective tactics.”

Vanasse also emphasized that the ability to “be scrappy” was essential if you are to continue to work with P&G. She wants her firms to identify a story quickly and get it out there in real time, commenting ominously that “some communications people are scrappier than others.”

The Olympics proved to her that you can have the best plan ever but that “stuff still needs doing on the fly” when the activity is in full flow, especially in an environment where hundreds of people were working on behalf of P&G in a real-time newsroom environment. “Sometimes you've got to go with it in the moment,” she explained.

So, in short, clients want it all: Big Ideas that shape strategy – and small tactical executions activated on the fly at little or no notice.

Historically, PR pros are very familiar with the latter and thrive in that environment in a way advertising types have yet to master. The harder part is to also be the vehicle that produces the strategy-forming big thinking.

But clients certainly seem open to getting those ideas from any discipline. Vanasse admitted that “great ideas come from everywhere” and advised firms to “think outside the PR box” and to be “media and channel neutral,” prioritizing collaboration and greater integration.

It's a sign of a much more open environment for marketers. Vanasse's boss Marc Pritchard is famously not a chief “marketing officer,” rather he is chief “brand building officer.” And he characterizes his communications team as “The Producers.” Their modus operandi is owned, earned, and shared content, rather than just paid-for advertising. Editing, writing, and filming are part of their daily bread and butter.

This is the direction in which marketing and communications is heading – and there are exciting opportunities ahead for those PR pros and firms that embrace this new landscape.

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