What should a public relations agency look like today, and in the future? Dom Lane, director of creativity at integrated marketing communications agency Bray Leino, reveals his ten-point draft manifesto for the new wave of PR and communications agencies.
1. Old Hat/New Hat
We were dealing with passive shoppers in a static world, waiting to be told and sold to. We ran campaigns, we interrupted the flow and we shouted slogans louder than the competition. It was all about look and feel, about broadcasting. Now open source IT and social networks have nurtured the active consumer, in a dynamic world of memes and threads, review and recommendation. We have to motivate, tell stories, engage with idea-packed content and provide immediate experience. We need to start real conversations.
2. Person Power
We have to discover or design our own audiences to drive real motivation. Marketing has focused on the intersection of people and market we’ve dubbed the ‘consumer’. The consumer is defined by geo-demographic and other numerical data. But motivation occurs in a shifting space left intact and untouched – personhood. I am a dad, a husband, a viewer, a friend, a son. Personhood is relative, momentary, responsive, emotional, divergent, manifold, it ‘trends’. We have to be here or we’ll always already be too late to inspire choice and effect change.
3. The moment is earned
Whatever else it is, however it’s defined, PR remains the craft of earning attention. My interest, inspiration, excitement and curiosity cannot be bought or owned. Ads, competitions, promotions, incentives etc. can illuminate a journey, but there has to be something more. There has to be a story, a qualification, real meaning or value. It could be slight – perhaps nothing more than a taste or sensation – but we have to deliver a valid experience of brand, a reward.
4. The big idea
We must be courageous and unconstrained. In the beginning there has to be the BIG IDEA. Even if it’s hidden. Even if it’s impossible to actualise or unfeasible to resource. We have to create weight behind a campaign, a source of momentum, a point of reference. There has to be a higher purpose to underpin each concrete activation or tactic. Brands only flourish if they make sense, but their essence isn’t necessarily sensible. We feel more than we hear.
5. Campaigns are content-led
Before HOW, there’s WHAT. We mustn’t be too hasty to limit ourselves by opportunity or channel, space or title. I listen to stories, share experiences and buy emotional input, not things. I purchase – exchange money for – toilet paper, but I buy comfort or prudence. We must create a place rather than a space. We have to create a drama, a transformation, something awesome, compelling or reassuring, something alien or familiar, not something merely loud or obstructive.
6. Campaigns are audience-centric
Channel is secondary but not irrelevant. We need to be where they are. Our channel planning shouldn’t be led by the pseudo-science of psychological cause and effect, but rather be an act of uncovering the somewhere that persons are, be it a readership or a membership. Now we can do the number crunching. Now we can winkle out circumstantial populations and discover gatherings or assemblies of the likeminded, the receptive, the empathetic or the sympathetic.
7. The art of conversation
PR is about nurturing a belief in a brand’s inherent value, about creating and building its equity. Equity is a product of a dynamic system, so we have to enable the client to listen and respond to its audience. We have to help them share and engage with persons, not consumers. We have to invest in cultural currency and enter a conversation bigger, longer, deeper and more fluid than any single key message or brand proposition. This is more than a dialogue, it’s a polylogue. PR has to be participatory.
8. The strategy is the filter
We can’t covet a particular channel or activation. It’s also courageous to let go. The fundamentals haven’t changed. PR agencies still exist to disseminate ideas on behalf of a third party for money in such a way as to affect changes in behaviour which would not otherwise occur. That’s why we evaluate, and are evaluated, on our creativity, consultancy, commerciality, and motivational efficacy. We exist to help clients sell stuff, be it a product or an ideology. That’s why PR is a craft and not an art.
9. It’s about the client, not us
PR is a service and successful agencies remember this. We can sign up to a creed, but shouldn’t push an ideology or remould our clients in our own image.
We exist to don the mantle of our clients, to immerse ourselves in their businesses and activate their brands rather than our own. We don’t welcome clients as acolytes, we earn their trust as partners. We collaborate.
And that frames our new business challenge – seeking recognition and fame whilst refraining from indulgence.
10. The shock of the new
PR 3.O represents evolution, not revolution. Despite all that PR has become, it’s still everything it was. It still demands analysis and foresight on the one hand and measured calculation born of experience on the other. It’s not about young punks vs. old guard, but it is about embracing the radical and the revised. We need to use the old tools in new ways. Our fortune lies in what we don’t know yet, in keeping one eye on the next. We must commit to the imaginative, sustain our curiosity and be curators of the interesting.