Years ago I wrote in one of our company newsletters that the true mark of leadership was persistence. We were going through a meltdown at H&K at the time, and I came to the realization that sometimes in a crisis all you can do is hold on until the crisis subsides, and then slowly chip away at your rebuilding plan. Being a bit of a history buff I always took solace in Churchill’s famous quote, “Never surrender”, and more recently I noticed in Jonathon Alter’s new book on Obama, the president claims he is a “big believer in persistence” as well.
Anyway, no part of our business has been a better practitioner of persistence than our marketing communications practice. Hill & Knowlton is a big PA brand in Canada – well connected, well known – with a serious track record of success. Our roots do not, to say the least, come from marcomms. So it has been a labour of persistence for our marcomms team for over a decade. Like everything, it begins with a leader –in our case the indefatigable Kadi Kaljuste – and grows from there. The marcomms practice has grown to the point where it makes up 25% of our revenue.
We are now a significant player in this space and can share some developing trends in the marcomms arena. First off, marketing communications was the one part of our business that grew in real terms over the recession last year. This was a breakthrough because in the past marcomms was one of the first services to feel the effects of a recession. But with the fragmentation in the media market, our clients are looking for alternative ways of getting their message out. The traditional role of advertising is shifting to a more holistic and integrated approach where social media, experiential, word of mouth and PR are all part of the mix.
While we began to see this shifting trend before the recession, last year our marcomms team was increasingly involved in integrated agency briefings, where all of the clients’ agencies were briefed at once with the intention of generating an integrated marketing campaign. Needless to say, this required all of us to sharpen our skills in managing our relationships with “competitive marketing services”. Where in the past, the PR and advertising briefing and pitching process were more distinct and separate, we also began to see new business pitches that pitted us against advertising companies. There is no doubt that this has largely been instigated by the drive to go digital, which has shaken up our world. Clients are now increasingly service neutral – recognizing that neither advertising nor PR ‘owns’ online. It is as if clients are presenting a challenge – with a completely open mind – to the marketing service that can best do the job. It’s all about the results.
Speaking of results, more than ever return on investment is top of mind for assessing a pitch or proposal. There was a time when media impressions were enough. But increasingly with digital our ability to track real impact is so much better that clients have set a higher bar on how we measure success.
The good news about these trends is that PR is no longer treated as a niche of corporate communications. It increasingly has a place at the marketing table where mega budgets to sell and market products and services are at stake. This is one of the reasons why marcomms is so exciting these days – it’s very much leading change that is affecting all of us in the PR industry. All this because we had the persistence to keep on investing in the practice.