'Communications and social purpose is mission-critical for organisations' - Edelman's Michelle Hutton

Edelman's Michelle Hutton says it is now integral for Middle Eastern brands to effectively engage consumers and for the agencies to take back the craft of PR.

Michelle Hutton says that consumers will avoid brands that do not align with their values.
Michelle Hutton says that consumers will avoid brands that do not align with their values.

'Craft PR' is now integral for Middle Eastern brands to effectively engage consumers. As demanding attention is no longer enough, earning attention is now essential, says the managing director of global clients at PR powerhouse Edelman.

Michelle Hutton, who leads some of Edelman's largest international client relationships and has also been named as the Jury President for the 2019 PR Lions at the Cannes Lions Festival, says MENA PR agencies need to embrace the evolving relationship between businesses, brands and customers; and help brands find value and purpose.

Hutton, speaking to PRWeek Middle East after addressing Dubai Lynx - the MENA region's meeting place for the creative and marketing community - said: "We must move communications into an even more mission-critical role in business and we need to do it at pace.

"Why? Because the lines between a corporate brand, its reputation and its consumer-facing brands are blurred. And as a result, the relationship between business, brands, and people has undergone a transformational change in recent years."

Importantly, says Hutton, organisations not only need a communications-first approach to solving its brand and business challenges.

"And that’s why businesses are searching for new agency/client partnership models. To build brands that can earn the right to be a part of a conversation…and to produce the type of marketing output that these ‘earned brands’ need to be sharing in today’s world," she said.

Edelman research revealed that there is a "real and urgent sense" that the system is not working fairly for everyone, and that things need to change.

"The people are speaking, acting and are in the seat of power," Hutton said. "The question I pose is: What if more marketers were bold enough to give their brands over to the people? To the people who work for the businesses that make them, and the people who love and use them. Could this be a way to build more trust? I think the answer is yes. And I think the brands who do it will grow faster and stronger."

This is because ‘brand democracy' is here to stay says Hutton, in a region where people are turning to businesses and brands as their champions.

"They are giving marketers permission to be brave in the way that they evolve, promote and protect their brands," she added.

‘Belief driven buyers’

The most recent Edelman Earned Brand study shows that 64 per cent of consumers now self-identify as ‘belief-driven buyers’, meaning they will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about.

Hutton explained: "People believe that it’s easier to get a brand to act on the issues than to vote for another ineffectual politician. And perhaps most interesting, belief-driven buyers now comprise the majority of buyers across all demographic segments. Buying on belief has become the majority mindset across every generation."

When a brand clearly communicates its stand, it drives purchase intent, says Hutton, saying 43 per cent of consumers intend to buy after seeing a brand take a stand on a relevant social issue.

"And brands and businesses are taking stands. Whether it’s operating on purpose, connecting with a relevant moment in culture or taking a leap into activism, resolute brands that make a stand have never been more necessary," Hutton said. "So, this is all leading to the rise of the ‘earned brand'. Today, brands need to earn the right to be heard by people with power.

"Earned brands operate with a clear purpose, listen to their employees, invite not just participation but give control over to the people, being responsive in real time, always ready and competing for attention.

"They are brave enough to know when they have made an error – they course correct – then steer a new course."

Earned brands embrace today’s complexity and are responsible for the supply chain, the wellbeing of their people, their customers and helping to solve societal challenges.

"The 'earned brand' uses creative storytelling that relies on human truths. Consumers are connecting the rational, emotional and societal dots of a brand – and brands need to do the same. More than just storytelling, this is story-doing," Huttn added.

"We are in the driving seat to help businesses lead, and, importantly, act. Today, agencies have to help businesses and brands earn people’s attention and trust and create meaningful change for themselves and society.

"The new agency model is one that can create and build ‘earned creative' – work that moves at the speed of news; is "social by design"; leads with earned; then travels the media ecosystem of publishers and platforms.

"Agencies that have an earned or communications playbook – and make it central to their "art and science model" – will win."

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