PR's next act

Real-time marketing hasn't simply created a new line of service for our firm. It's changed the way our teams operate everywhere we do business.

Two years ago, the chairman and CEO of my agency called a meeting of our leadership team. Instead of the typical management meet-up with discussion of clients, new business, talent, and revenue, he posed a simple question to the GolinHarris leadership group: “What do we want our agency to look like 10 years from now?” We had just completed the first decade of the new millennium, our business had never been stronger, and times were good. Yet we were talking about our next act.

A few days earlier, Gatorade unveiled “Mission Control” – a technology-rich facility purposefully built to understand and react to consumer needs, largely through analysis of social conversations. I played the sizzle reel from Gatorade's Mission Control announcement in our meeting, and suggested that, like forward-thinking brands, PR practitioners in the future must be prepared to move faster than ever before. We'd need to glean real-time consumer insights, publish and promote at a moment's notice, engage an ever-changing set of influencers, and rely on new data sources to make split-second decisions and prove our worth.   

After a couple days of rich, and sometimes heated, discussion about the future of our business, we began planning for a radical agency restructuring, which rolled out last summer. While part of Golin's evolution focused on reorganizing to deliver specialized services, we also reengineered the ways our teams tell our clients' stories. One of our biggest bets was to help clients better capitalize on short-term opportunities and engage in real-time across both traditional and digital and social channels. The concept for The Bridge, Golin's global network of multimedia engagement centers, was born. 

Over the next 12 months, we created new processes to understand the traditional news environment and social conversations faster. We built a global network of engagement centers in more than a dozen regions of the world. We hired seasoned journalists and other diverse specialists to focus solely on real-time marketing work. And we helped clients make necessary changes inside their own walls to speed up the way they engage stakeholders and work with agencies like ours. 

We've learned a lot along the way about how to make real-time marketing work inside complex organizations. A room with flat panel displays and a few PCs isn't enough. Real-time marketing requires a mind-shift, unique skill sets, streamlined processes, and a healthy dose of institutional will. It's bigger than social media and its promise is far more than rapid delivery of insights. 

Real-time marketing hasn't simply created a new line of service for our firm. It's changed the way our teams operate everywhere we do business. It's instilled a renewed sense of urgency and scrappiness in our workforce and placed even more value on delivering results everyday. And it has created a unique differentiator for our firm among clients, whose partners in other marketing disciplines often remain focused on more conventional, static marketing techniques.

The RTM opportunity for public relations is massive. Clients I talk with are looking for every edge they can find to spot fleeting marketing opportunities faster, and to convert these opportunities into tangible results. Some marketing executives now suggest that RTM may represent as much as half of marketing expenditures in the near future.

As the communications environment continues to accelerate, real-time marketing will prove to be an important differentiator and a big part of PR's next act. It's sure been a big part of ours.

Jeff Beringer is the global digital practice lead at GolinHarris.

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