Shouldn’t these two ‘disciplines’ really be the same thing, as organisations communicate a holistic character to the world? Ideally, yes; but in reality promotion, protection and stakeholder management often require different skill sets, departments and budgets.
In the past five years we have seen chief marketing officers gain power and budget at the expense of the chief comms officer, particularly in the US. As a result, most big PR consultancies have quite sensibly changed their focus to challenge ad agencies for this work. Richard Edelman says his revenues are now split 65/35 in favour of marketing work versus corporate. Weber Shandwick’s innovation in the marketing sphere has made it the pre-eminent global performer for the past couple of years.
The better boutiques have also benefited from this shift with great creative content leading campaigns, winning share from marketing services firms.
But cold winds blew through the marketing world in 2017. The FMCG firms (CPG in the US) felt the heat of a low-growth environment and activist shareholders. They responded by cutting costs and deploying aggressive procurement. WPP has seen a major slump in share price. Sir Martin Sorrell admits his marketing services empire is under pressure for these reasons.
Yet sophisticated comms expertise has never been more in demand: 2017 was the year of the crisis, from political turbulence to corporate disasters – United Airlines, Uber – and ‘me too’ personal-reputation horrors on both sides of the Atlantic.
Corporate, political and personal ethics top the agenda as we start a new year. Fear permeates many organisations. No surprise, then, that corporate and crisis consultancies enjoyed a stellar 2017. What about Bell Pottinger? Well, it showed that the same ethical sensitivity is just as crucial for consultancies as for clients.
In-house comms departments suddenly feel more vital than ever to the success of organisations, with high demand for grown-up judgement, advice and risk-management.
Don’t get me wrong, marketing PR will continue to thrive. Earned and owned media techniques are smarter and more cost-effective. They will continue to seize budget from advertising. Comms departments and agencies will plan and buy more media.
What a fascinating time to work in professional comms, whatever your specialism.