Influence is the lifeblood of the PR industry. We help our clients influence where people go on holiday, which clothes they wear, what books they read ¾ even who they want to work for. But to wield influence, we need to leverage trust. The public is influenced by people or organisations they trust.
There’s been a recent shift in influence. In the political realm, this is exemplified by both the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. The traditional political elites have lost influence over voters. This is also true for marketing. Five years ago, getting a favorable review in a prestigious newspaper was equivalent to a box office hit. Now it’s all about endorsements from online trendsetters.
Cause: declining trust
The root cause of this is a megatrend of decaying trust in all manners of elites and establishment. Big business, traditional media, international organisations, and subject matter experts ¾ the list of elites is long. This is a challenge for the PR industry, as we very often represent these elites, regardless of whether we are marketing a can of soda or a political concept.
At the same time, this disruption brings along massive opportunities for us. This industry thrives in turmoil. We are well placed to help our clients rebuild trust and find new avenues of influence. But to do so, we have to understand how influence has changed.
One key development in that regard is the media is being dismantled right in front of our eyes. The biggest agenda setter in the U.S. election was Trump’s Twitter account. He used his own channels to build a movement, which in turn gave him influence. This is a key learning point for our clients, too ¾ "centralised" influence through elites is losing its power. We need to help them build movements to wield influence.
Blurring and shifting
One consequence of this media implosion is audiences are increasingly blurred. This means we need to work in a more integrated manner ¾ across channels and target groups. This is an opportunity for us, and one of our key differentiators versus other communication disciplines is our deep target group insight. When everything needs to be coordinated and integrated on our target groups’ terms, we are best placed to orchestrate effective campaigns.
We also need to understand our audience better. How do they consume information? How do they make decisions? That is why Hill+Knowlton Strategies and our subsidiaries RDI and Group SJR partnered with AIG to examine the role of data in our daily lives. The survey ¾ the first public opinion poll about the public’s attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors about data ¾ found people overwhelmingly still look to data to inform their decisions on transactional matters. On personal matters, though, we are significantly less willing to rely on data alone.
The implosion of media has left us with an explosion of content, as evidenced by our recent research project Thought Leadership Disrupted, carried out in partnership with The Economist Group. People are drowning in content, and facts just don’t cut through in the same way anymore.
We need to marry facts with emotional communications to make an impact. Facts and emotions are a potent combination when delivered in creative and novel ways.
Getting better all the time
We need to continue helping our clients wield influence. But, to do a good job going forward, we need to change. We need to get better at conveying facts in new ways. We need to get better at reaching grassroot influencers. We also need to use creativity to create movements ¾ brand movements or social movements ¾ to ignite change. If we’re able to do that, the megatrends definitely points in our favour.
Lars Erik Grønntun is Chairman and CEO of H+K EMEA