PR and comms face the perfect verbal storm

Leave and Trump campaigns can herald a new verbal dawn for communications, at the expense of 'arrogant network agencies' and their visual bias.

There will be a reckoning in the PR and comms industry, writes Sven Hughes
There will be a reckoning in the PR and comms industry, writes Sven Hughes

In the beginning was the word. And then we kind of forgot about it.

In advertising. In politics. The key visual became king. Hero product shots. Endless meetings about the exact Pantone reference number. Tony Blair, with those evil eyes. The Nike swoosh no longer even needing the ‘just do it’.

But twelve o’clock struck. And large swathes of our sclerotic communication industries have been revealed as the pumpkins they really are.

The Donald. Brexit. Text-based social media. Hybrid warfare in Crimea. The God of grassroots, word-of-mouth, just arrived and kicked arse amid a fanfare of trumpets, leaving a slew of traditional pollsters and big agencies reeling in its divine wake.

For too long the suffocating key visual bullies have deprived the key verbalists of their oxygen.

They have simply paid lip service to ‘storytelling’, rather than genuinely developing progressive IP in the areas of lexical analysis, verbal encoding and deep listening.

As a consequence, vanguard commercial brands, political candidates and military forces are now leaving the competition standing.

The old guard have been sent skulking back to their Veuve Clicquot-orange design studios (Pantone 137C) to weep at the passing of their golden age.

The war of words is being fought by more progressive, nimble consultancies and content creators who are using data to inform their campaigning, not just creative ‘inspiration’.

Where the ‘Remain’ campaign utilised top London advertising agencies and billboards, the ‘Leave’ campaign chose to favour messaging on beer mats.

Where Clinton’s team defaulted to celebrities as brand endorsers, Trump’s team recognised that the real influencers were to be found in bars and amongst the rust belt unemployed.

The political anger felt by many in the UK and US should perhaps be directed at the arrogant network agencies rather than the politicians taking advantage of this new verbal world order.

The big-city creatives who were unwilling to stoop so low as to listen to the people and change their own marketing methods should, I believe, be the first people to hear Trump’s famous catchphrase, "You’re fired!"

I can only hope that there are several global blue-chip brands currently reviewing their advertising spends with the big agencies responsible for the Remain and Clinton campaigns.

However, this new verbal dawn also offers us a tremendous opportunity to rethink and reengineer our various communication services, to better pattern-match the new verbal realities and emerging client needs.

Similarly, this is perhaps the time for manufacturers to invest in their own, in-house, deep listening techniques and consequent production processes. To ensure that their products have in-built ‘talk value’ as a vital part of the overall R&D process.

This would create a new kind of demand, focused more on seeding appropriate stories rather than simply depicting literal products.

The agencies and consultancies with the appropriate verbal methodologies and techniques would, through market forces, rise to the top and secure their rightful position - delivering the ‘new way’.

I am personally delighted that both Leave and Trump won. The consequences for comms (commercial and political) are delicious to behold.

This could be the beginning of the end for significant sections of the industry that represent everything that has also been wrong politically in Europe and America.

A self-satisfied elite, complacent in their inaction and wilful only in their wish to stifle innovation and accountability (as measure of effect rather than number of creative awards).

Perhaps it’s an unintended consequence of Leave, Trump et al – but this has the potential to be one of the most exciting phases in the history of effects-based PR and strategic communications.

Let’s take back control and make our industry great again!

Sven Hughes is the founder of Global Influence

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in