What to watch in 2016 - 5 global agency executives weigh in

PRWeek asked five agency executives from firms around the world to weigh in on the biggest challenges and opportunities of 2015 and what they're most looking forward to next year.

What to watch in 2016 - 5 global agency executives weigh in

Adrianne Kern
Director of consulting, Text 100 (Sydney)

Was it a busy year? How did 2015 compare to 2014 in terms of new work?
Yes, very busy! We completed an integration with our sister company, Bite Communications, which was challenging, but also great to get new skills, energy, and perspectives into our team. With Bite and Text100 integrated across Asia-Pacific and some other markets, we’ve been going after very diverse client opportunities across new sectors, including hospitality, real estate, and consumer, in addition to continuing to win business in the tech and digital space.

What are the trends to watch in the communications industry in 2016?
I think we’re all across the shift to integrated comms and content-centric PR campaigns. This will continue in 2016 as we demonstrate the value of integrated communications and influencer relations beyond PR teams to the sales and marketing functions of organizations. PR’s ability to ‘tell and sell’ a business or product story is unique because we are used to the discipline of authentic, two-way comms versus advertising comms. Every few months, new tech platforms and trends emerge that can spark incredible creativity in terms of how we develop new forms of content to engage with buyers, influencers, and employees. For us, we’re looking closely at the impact of trends like Internet of Things – as a reality, not a theory – data visualization, and the idea of prototyping.

What were your biggest challenges this year? Biggest opportunity?
Biggest challenges: integration with Bite. Biggest opportunity: leveraging the new and improved Text100 into new areas and sectors.

Nicola Nel
Atmosphere Communications (South Africa)

Was it a busy year? How did 2015 compare to 2014 in terms of new work?
Looking back, 2014 was one of the best years ever for Atmosphere with large-scale projects. This year, though, has been good, and traditionally, the last three to four months are our busiest, so we hope that our performance for this year will be on par with the year before.  

What are the trends to watch in the comms industry in 2016?
A further integration of ideas; our clients are looking for the standout ideas that can work across channels and which can, of course, create talk factor. 

What were your biggest challenges this year? Biggest opportunity?
Challenges: Staff retention as corporates in Africa see consultancies as ideal training grounds for smart, hardworking PR professionals. Educating multi-national clients that Africa is a continent and not a country. The service is expensive in other parts of the continent due to a lack of infrastructure, resources, and a free press. 

Opportunity: Growing our editorial media measurement model, as well as new product offering in the influencer space. 

Michael O’Keeffe,
CEO of PSG Communications (Ireland)

Was it a busy year? How did 2015 compare to 2014 in terms of new work?
This was an extremely busy year for PSG Communications across corporate, public affairs, healthcare, consumer, sponsorship, and social media. In Ireland, the market was definitely on the up after a number of years of decline and stagnation since 2009 as Ireland struggled to come out of a deep and difficult recession.

PSG has witnessed a 30% increase in income in 2015, compared to 2014. This is primarily due to our new group structure and greater specialization.

Our agency’s work on Ireland’s historic Marriage Equality Referendum in May was one of the highlights. PSG Plus worked closely with the Yes Equality campaign to ensure more than 60% of Irish people voted "yes" to marriage equality.

What are the trends to watch in the comms industry in 2016?
PR agencies have always been generators of big ideas and storytelling, and this will continue into 2016.

With the rise of digital ad skipping and the requirement for more commercial- and brand-driven content, a massive opportunity exists for PR and social media agencies to generate this kind of content that is on-brand, but also of interest to consumers.

From a client perspective, deeper analysis and measurement of PR activity will be required to benefit both client and agency. Certainly in Ireland, the increase in specialized and technical comms expertise is more prevalent. The days of the publicity agent are long gone, and for more complex clients their comms agency partner is more involved than ever in elements like internal communications, public affairs, corporate reputation auditing, and research, as well as more conventional, media-focused activation.

What were your biggest challenges this year? Biggest opportunity?
There were three main challenges. The biggest challenge was talent identification and ensuring we retain and attract the best employees. To this end, we have introduced a new PSG graduate program to attract the brightest young graduates, and offer extra benefits and training unique to PSG for our employees.

There remains a need for a correction in prices charged by agencies. PR hourly rates fell dramatically in the last six years in Ireland as clients got far more resources for far less. This was as much an investment in clients by agencies as it was a reaction to the recession. As the recession abates, PR is not seeking to lead the charge on simply increasing costs for clients, rather we are seeking fairer recompense that reflects the results we deliver in terms of audience engagement, brand improvements, and, ultimately, the commercial success of our clients.

Third, integrating digital deeper into every facet of the agency remains an ongoing imperative. The proliferation of new social platforms makes this even more interesting. One of our other new offerings for 2016 is a full brand strategy and positioning suite of services, called ‘notorious brands,’ which is being rolled out by our consumer agency, Notorious PSG.

Horacio Loyo-Gris,
CEO and partner, Dextera Comunicación (Mexico)

Was it a busy year? How did 2015 compare to 2014 in terms of new work?
Yes, we have had quite a busy year. In terms of new business, we grew 18%. In 2015, we secured new monthly retainer clients and our work on a per-project basis basically remained stable.

What are the trends to watch in the comms industry in 2016?
In the media arena, we see major consolidation among media companies and the journalists working for them. And though one would think there are efficiencies in terms of communicating with a single point of contact, given that there is more consolidation, there is actually less competition and therefore higher relative power, and, naturally, concentration of power is never good in any market. Another trend is the many print media outlets have closed and are moving to online versions.

What were your biggest challenges this year? Biggest opportunity?
For Dextera, the most important challenge was to maintain growth in a slowing economy and consequently having to delay certain business decisions, such as new investments or hires. In addition to the slow growth of the Mexican economy, we must add that the parity of the US dollar against the Mexican peso is strategic for Mexico and it has increased 26% over the last 12 months.

Opportunity: We have seen an exponential increase in the interest that organizations are showing in them, which is interesting given that until recently many did not consider them as a strategic platform. For example, a subsidiary in Mexico of a consumer-oriented Fortune 500 company, and client of ours, just started this year to operate activities on social media.

Elena Fadeeva
General director, FleishmanHillard Vanguard Russia and CIS

Was it a busy year? How did 2015 compare to 2014 in terms of new work?
The last 12 months were really busy with the following key trends: growth of PR against decline of advertising, growth of role of corporate reputation fueling demand for reputation management expertise, high-level comms consulting, strategy development with a special place for
refocusing corporate social responsibility programs and policies. All of this created a trend for a growing role and position of comms professionals: from press secretary to CCO with a board seat.

What are the trends to watch in the comms industry in 2016?
We see already-strong plans for continued growth of public sector and corporate reputation management and the role of corporate reputation overall. Such trends create a strong market wish for more qualified and experienced senior comms professionals on the corporate side and high-level consulting capabilities and execution excellence from agencies.

There is also a growing competition for the share of voice between businesses and among agencies due to a tightening market place.

What were your biggest challenges this year? Biggest opportunity?
In Russia, the biggest challenges and opportunities were the same: building of trust and ethics. We continued the conversation about ethics and transparency and effectiveness of ethical campaigns. We supported a countrywide public initiative, Eventiada PR Awards, to showcase and celebrate the best work – effective and ethical at the same time – and to teach future generations of comms professionals how to build trust and leadership at a huge Leadership Dialog Conference for PR graduates.

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