Insights into Tomorrow’s Marketing Organizations: The Interplay of Brands and Agencies


As the marketing discipline becomes more fragmented, marketing agencies and internal departments need to take a collaborative approach to achieve success and longevity. Specialists will have a key role working with marketing teams to provide strategic communications counsel for brands who truly understand what they’re all about and who their audiences are, as discussed by three key communications leaders at our recent Sydney meetup.

‘The Marketing Organisation of the Future’ was the hot topic for our senior panel, who addressed the questions: What is changing and is not changing in marketing? What are the characteristics and capabilities of marketing organizations of the future? What can we be doing now to become the successful marketing organization of tomorrow?

Below are the key insights shared by each panellist on shaping the marketing department and agency of the future.

Pru Quinlan, CEO, Einsteinz Communications

  • We will see a more collaborative approach with many agencies coming together.
  • Agencies need to think about how they interact with marketers and employees.
  • The agency of the future will have to be more agile than it is now – navigate 1-to-1 marketing and make quick decisions based on technology and consumer behavior.
  • It’s challenging for brands to invest in long form content … the need is for ‘snackable’ content to be distributed in the right way to reach target audiences.
  • Brands should own the content, not the agency.
  • Agencies need to show and lead by example when it comes to budgets and the value of what we do.
  • Brands need to control themselves but also need to reflect on the workforce of today, including freelancers and contractors; there are many talented individuals who don’t fit in a particular hole but have a role to play within a company, or for a brand.
  • There will be more roles for individuals, on their own or as collectives, to work with brands, work magic, then maybe even leave.
  • Advice: focus on what audiences really want and what your brand means for them … And brands have to open minds to new approaches and play differently to speak to our market.

Ben Shipley, Managing Director, Spectrum Group

  • The market has been product-centric, not audience-centric, but we will move back to being people-centric.
  • Greater focus on useful and quality content designed for niche audiences, but also need to also understand how the content will reach them.
  • Need to aggregate audiences and keep people engaged.
  • Agencies have a role in giving brands an objective viewpoint.
  • Whitepapers are no longer effective and could work better as a series of shorter pieces of content.
  • Building owned homes for content has an important impact on search. There is a split in media: live event content (news) versus distributed evergreen content (broadsheet).
  • Key piece of advice is to be a singular brand – know what you are and why – and consider the different messaging required for different audience segments.

Tony Faure, Chairman, Junkee Media, Stackla, Pollenizer

  • Key piece of advice is to use data to fully understand your customer and be very clear about your point of difference.
  • Brand is going to be even more massive and go back to ‘difficult marketing’.
  • Aggregation of services will be done by technology.
  • We are heading into an era of specialists, not generalists.
  • We will see companies and brands taking back ownership of marketing, which has largely been ceded to agencies.
  • Journalists are not always capable of realizing not everything they write is interesting, so they may not be the best people to produce content.
  • Long-form content can be more difficult to execute … a one-minute video for Facebook is cheaper, measured instantly, and easier to do.
  • Key elements to consider are: Who is the customer? Why is my brand different from everyone else’s?
  • The customer and brand piece needs to be owned by the brand.
  • Less of a believer in big aggregated agencies.
  • The creative agency has more relevance now.
  • There is an increase in big brands wanting specialists.
  • It’s about identifying niche communities within your brand community and understanding the nuances of how to best engage with them.
  • Australian agency versus global marketing agency: main issues are scale; regional Australian clients are less likely to take risks because they’re the brand channel for our market.

Please let us know your thoughts on any of the points raised, or if you have comments to add to the discussion on the marketing organization of the future.

Join our Future of PR – Sydney Meetup Group here and find out when our next meetup will be held.

Leaders of the Future:  Collaborative, High EQ and Data-Driven


There’s no denying the influence of technology on communication practices, however it is with the value of human experience, honed gut instinct and emotional intelligence that PR leaders of the future will shape the industry.

Our first Creating the Future of PR Meetup in Sydney recently brought together a panel of industry leaders with varied backgrounds to discuss the skills, capabilities and qualities required of our future communications leaders, and how best to nurture their talents.

All panelists agreed our future leaders must be more flexible in their thinking, comfortable with being data-driven and working with people across the broader business, not just within the communications function. The technology plus human relationship is critical where tech will be led by human intuition.

Below are key discussion points shared by our panelists during the event.

Caspian Smith, Director Brand & Communications, IBM Asia Pacific


  • Greater requirement for transparency in communication.
  • Communication leaders as custodians of the brands they manage – it’s their job to help employees understand what the brand stands for; they will be the voice of the brand and shape interactions.
  • We will work with people across the business and become adept at working in multi-disciplinary teams, e.g. IT, product developers, psychologists, software engineers etc.
  • Cognitive machine learning is the future and something IBM is currently working on with IBM’s Watson Technology: it will allow us to learn at great scale. Communications teams will help guide the creation of tech for one-to-one communication at mass scale. We will teach the technology and the technology will teach employees with consistent, up-to-date and ‘on-brand’ information.

Kieran Moore, CEO, Ogilvy PR Australia, Regional Talent Director, EXCO member, STW Group Australia, Board Member, Ogilvy PR

  • As communications leaders we need a better understanding of data, insights, strategy, planning, and digital technology via a team of specialists with each of these skills. A collaborative approach is essential and the days of marketing disciplines fighting each other are gone; whoever gets the jump on paid and social will do well.
  • We need to understand the value of paid and search to know where people go to look for content. People aren’t going to brand websites for information anymore. PR has been great at creating content but if we don’t know where to distribute this content then no-one will see what we create.
  • We need really good EQ (Emotional Quotient) to nurture teams and future leaders. One of the best things about the role of communications in this digital era is the role of people in decision-making, relationship building and the communication process. Even if you have the best tech in the world you still need a human touch.
  • Future leaders will need to understand changing demographics and the nature of work, value employees as influencers, be more transparent and understand that loyalty to consumer brands is not there anymore.

Kim McKay, director and founder, Klick Communications

  • Leadership qualities aren’t going to change. Leaders will still need to be visionary and see what’s coming while being inspiring enough to take people along with them.
  • We need to think about the future of work and what that looks like, working with freelancers and remote staff, and we need to be able to lead and motivate geographically dispersed teams. We need to get people inducted and up-to-speed on the business and brands they’re working on quickly to best manage agency employee turnover.
  • SEO and social media as industries “should not have happened on our watch … We’ve always been in control of the words, where they go and how they’re applied” so to miss these are bad for PR. PR should have gotten in early with social and claimed it early but I think we’ve learned from this as an industry and now we’re focused on the what’s next and what our role will be.

Professor Jim Macnamara, Associate Dean UTS was unable to attend but contributed some key thoughts as below:

  • Get out of silos and ghettos and work collaboratively.
  • A more strategic focus, and evidence-based and data-driven communication is needed.
  • We will see a move towards greater social conscience.

Audience Discussion

Here are some comments from the audience shared via Twitter on the night.

Why PR Shouldn’t Fear a Recession


Almost daily we see media coverage of potential downturns or various bubbles bursting. Whether or not another Great Recession is headed our way, 2016 is looking like a year of uncertainty. The US election, the UK’s EU Brexit referendum, the crisis in the Middle East, oil, China’s volatile stock market – there’s plenty of disruptive factors right now. Never a good thing for economic and business confidence.

As marketing and communications professionals, history tells us that when a recession rears its ugly head, it’s our departments that are the first to be cut. However, have things changed? Should the marketing community be more confident these days that our budgets are safe if a recession or downturn appears?

I think the answer is yes.

At LEWIS Futures Forums events held in San Francisco and San Diego in February 2016, we polled senior global marketing decision makers on this topic.

In terms of how a marketer in 2016 would respond to a recession, a third said they would expect to increase marketing spend. Another third said they expect it to be business as usual. Fifteen per cent said it was likely resources would be diverted into R&D. Meanwhile, a cautious fifth are reaching for the rope to firmly batten down those hatches.

Overall, those surveyed were fairly confident. But should they be, given the track record of marketing budgets and recessions?

According to Mike Banic, VP Marketing at San Jose, CA-based Vectra Networks, the answer lies in the rapid development and accessibility of marketing automation tools.

“At the time of the last recession in 2008, sophisticated marketing automation tools were not readily available. Often the price point was within reach of only the largest organizations. Today, marketing tools are highly sophisticated and because there is much more choice and better pricing, these systems are common place. Even your local florist is using a tool like HubSpot in its day-to-day business with customers.”

Marketing and communications has secured a different place and value since the last recession. We have the data, analysis and systems to prove that cutting marketing and communications during an economic downturn is a bad idea.

In 2008, marketers focused on activity. It was challenging to prove the connection to business value. Now, we have the data to exactly demonstrate business value and trace the contribution of marketing to corporate strategy and objectives. Data will act as the lifebelt for marketers when the economy gets into choppy waters.

2008’s single-layer email marketing solutions have given way to marketing automation platforms. These allow for more sophisticated execution, management and measurement of marketing campaigns.

These solutions are now tightly integrated with CRM technologies. This means measurement can carry through all the way from lead to close in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Google Analytics at the time was for specialists, not the general marketer. We had data, but the ease of analysis to demonstrate business value was out of reach to most.

Similarly, at the same time social media was still in relative infancy and very much a consumer plaything. Twitter was a celebrity tool Ashton Kutcher used to reach masses. Measuring social was not even an option.

Many saw tools like Hootsuite and Hubspot as a game changer bringing excellent measurement solutions into the hands of marketers in any size of organisation. Google and Facebook analytics are now used capably by marketing and communications generalists.

We could even say that 2008 was before content marketing became a serious marketing strategy. Now, the value of content we are creating has never been more important. In the last decade, it was difficult to prove the value and direct impact of content. Now we can track and report back on the value and contribution of content across every channel and platform that an organization uses.

Mike Banic agrees that data is the key to weathering the storm of any potential recessions: “I can tell the board how many inbound web visitors we had from reading articles online or engaging in social media and then linking to the website. When we publish blog posts about threat research, we can track a huge spike in web visits. I know exactly where people are going after reading the blog.

“The most important aspect is to be able to track the customer journey. There are so many great tools today to build pathways or journeys through digital content. For example, what content resonates at what part of the buying cycle, where are you in your journey. It’s very simple to associate calls to action in digital outbound activity.

“In our weekly sale and marketing team meetings, we review leads by channels, like inbound web queries, content, social media, how many leads turned into meetings. We analyze what lead sources work or not. This gives me the ability to make brutal decisions about where to make investments, and where to reduce or stop.

“This level of insight was non-existent at the time of the last recession. The quality of the data I regularly provide to the board basis proves the exact value of marketing and communications.”

Cutting down on marketing and communications is no longer an option during a recessionary period. Organizations would lose the insights and analytics to help improve the business when it needs it most. What operational improvements would be needed to help get an organization through a tough economic period.

If there is a positive we can take from a potential recession this year, it’s that the marketing community need not fear the axe being wielded. We have no excuses to not be confident about delivering and demonstrating business value. Because the data is out there. And all of us bar none have the means to show this to the board, month in, month out, rain or shine.

Does the Agency Model and Leadership Impact the Future of Creativity in Communications?


The Holmes Report recently released their fourth annual Creativity in PR Global Study and the results present a mixed bag on the status of right brain thinking in the PR profession. While there has evidently been an uptick in key areas – for instance viewing creativity as a key element in agency culture and more resources being devoted to creativity – there is still work to be done.

The study, conducted in association with H+K Strategies, provides both a snapshot and a somewhat longer view of the profession relative to its creative path.  But as with any study, the real insights are when the results of similar questions are considered together.

This year’s study included the question “Do you think the PR industry is set fair to deliver and lead creativity in the next five years, in terms of …?”. Respondents had four categories to respond to: Talent (hiring, training, diversity of workforce), Innovation, Agency Business Model, and Leadership.

Here’s how the responses netted out:

Unfortunately, this question wasn’t included in last year’s study, so there’s no way to know if there’s been a change. But there are both insights and dichotomies when the responses to this question are compared to the response to others.

Take talent for instance. Responses to a separate question about how agencies reward creativity indicated less than half (45.7%) do so as part of an annual performance review and a third don’t reward it at all. Taking that into account, how then could the industry as a whole be well positioned to hire, train and diversify for creativity into the foreseeable future? How many people – regardless of age group – will want to continue to work in an industry that says it values creativity, but your chances of being rewarded for it are less than 50 percent?

Let’s move to innovation. The greatest percentage of respondents to this question believes that the industry is poised to lead in this area. That’s all good, but when compared to the 50% of respondents who rated the current quality of creativity as ordinary in a separate question, there’s clearly a lot of work that needs to be done to get the industry to a leadership position in innovation over the next five years.

The Agency Model received the lowest percentage of yes votes relative to the long-term view and the highest number of no’s. Should we be surprised? The model has been in question for some time now, yet no one seems to know what to do about it. Unfortunately, when these numbers are combined with the fact that Leadership got the second lowest number of yes votes and the second highest number of no’s to this same question, it’s not difficult to see that the industry may be stymied in its efforts to be more creative.

Clients and agency personnel alike are providing some possible solutions. When asked if they could only do three things to improve their own or their company’s creative capabilities here are the top five responses:

      Improve use of insight

      Ability to take more risks

      Educate clients

      More budget

      Clearer client briefs

Three of the above require more direct money and two require more time, which equates to more money. With money involved, change in the agency model and leadership mindset will be necessary to address all or most of these.

In other parts of the report, client input suggests they’re willing to spend the money on innovative ideas, but not if there’s no data to back up the approach. Advertising agencies have never had a problem with this. They create ideas, test them, iterate on the results then present concepts based on data. Brainstorming might have gotten them to the initial idea, but the results of the brainstorm typically don’t go immediately to the client without some kind of data to back it up. That’s a model that PR firms aren’t used to operating within but may need to get comfortable with.

It’s encouraging to see that the industry as a whole is continuing to move toward a greater focus on being more creative. This has been a conundrum that has affected PR for decades. But verbalizing what you want to be and proving it are two different things. Rather than pointing to ad agencies and wondering why they get to wear the creative mantle, PR needs to take a clue from them and mimic what’s allowed them to do so. It’s going to have to start with agency and in-house leadership – their future and the industry’s may depend on it.

A Tale of Two Revenues


A funny thing happened in public relations in 2012. Global revenue growth bumped up 14.7% after several years of alternating single digit growth and double-digit losses during the Great Recession (see chart). That was the single biggest bump since 2006 when revenue growth was at 14.1%. Unfortunately, the fun stops there as revenue growth since has never been higher than 4.6% and that was in 2013. Projections from IBISWorld out to 2020 don’t show much improvement.

But the PR profession can take some solace in the fact that, as you can see, the advertising industry is in the same boat…or at least the same stream of projected flat revenue growth now and into the foreseeable future. During that banner year of 2012 – despite mostly staying ahead of the game during the previous recessionary years – advertising revenue only grew 5.9%. Since then PR and Advertising global revenue growth have mostly been in lockstep with one another with single digit growth in the high 3% to low 6% range. But the future looks even less bright for advertising with a continued downward trend that sees revenue growth potentially going as low as 2.8% by 2020.

While the amount of money that is spent on advertising will probably always exceed that spent on PR, the fact that both are now seeing relatively small but similar percentage revenue increases year-on-year indicates a degree of parity most never thought possible. It’s difficult to be certain as to how these projections will hold up. It’s doubtful anyone saw the 14.7% increase for PR happening before 2012. With the global media landscape changing and content continuing to be an important factor, the only thing certain about the future of PR and advertising revenue growth is uncertainty.

Image Source: Patrik Theander

The Top 10 Global PR Agencies: Where Are They Now and Where Could They Be Headed


The economic fortunes of public relations agencies are typically subjected to the economic swings of national and global economies. So one would think that the last several years that have marked an uptick from the downturn of the Great Recession would have most, if not all, of the large global agencies doing quite well economically. But a look at the revenue numbers of the top 10 global PR firms indicates otherwise.

In the chart below, you’ll see the billings for these firms over the four-year period from mid-2010 to mid-2014. Brunswick and Edelman are independent, but the rest are owned by the big global media holding companies. Weber Shandwick and Golin are owned by Interpublic; Ketchum and Fleishman Hillard belong to Omnicom; Burson, Hill & Knowlton and Ogilvy are with WPP; and MSL Group is owned by Publicis. The combined billings of these top 10 global agencies is $4.78 billion — a pretty significant number considering it’s generated by just ten firms. But dig deeper and the numbers become more telling.

Here are some specific data points worth noting:

  • Edelman’s model of private ownership seems to work just fine. They’ve continued to point out that as a result of not being tied to a holding company, they can control their own destiny. They have. Richard Edelman has said he wants to be a billion dollar business and with over $812 million in billings by the middle of last year, they are on track to hit that number by the end of 2016.
  • Weber Shandwick seems to have figured out how to match Edelman at least fairly closely in billings. So they’ve either been allowed more free reign by Interpublic or they’ve found a leadership equation that’s paying off. With only a $12 million-plus difference between their 2014 billings and Edelman’s, they could be in a position to finish at the top by the end of 2015.
  • Then there’s the middle group of Fleishman, Ketchum, Burson, H+K, and MS&L – all of which are owned by various holding companies. Burson’s growth has been flat, Ketchum and Fleishman’s have risen fairly steadily, and MSL and H+K have actually declined. (No idea how you do that in a growing economy.) Ketchum has shown the largest increase in revenue within this group, but even that appears to have tapered off last year.
  • The bottom three – Ogilvy, Golin and Brunswick have seen mostly stagnant growth during the same period.

What’s interesting about this information is what it reveals about the media holding companies relative to the PR agencies they own. While they all own multiple agencies engaged in everything from PR to advertising to digital, their ability to run growing global PR firms could be seen as questionable – particularly WPP. Consider that the three agencies on the list owned by them have been experiencing extended periods of mostly stagnant growth, while other agencies owned by the other holding companies (MSL Group excluded) have been able to grow or hold their own with the economic upturn. Edelman is the outlier, not only in its growth but in its ability to grow substantially more than any single or even group of agencies other than Weber Shandwick.

But WPP is the largest media holding company in the world and the others aren’t far behind. So what’s going on here?

To get a better sense of how these companies perform economically, let’s take a look at how their stock price did during a similar period. In this case August 23, 2010 to June 30, 2014

  • Interpublic — $8.54 per share to $19.39 per share
  • Omnicom — $36.68 per share to $71.62 per share
  • Publicis PA – $33.46 per share to $61.47 per share
  • WPP — $49.95 per share to 108.49 per share

Most of these organizations were doubling their share valuation at a time when their PR agencies were experiencing modest to stagnant growth or declining. If their stock growth was tied to PR earnings alone, most of these would have been listed as DO NOT BUY or SELL.

The combination of revenue and share price points to a number of things:

  • The large global agencies may not see traditional PR alone as a priority or at least as a sole source of income – this includes Edelman, which is the world’s largest PR firm. They and the other global firms (and the holding companies that own them) are continuing to diversify by adding specialized offerings like digital services, small to large ad agencies and design firms, and research entities. The agency or holding company that figures out how best to integrate these various services into a workable model will likely come out ahead of the others. That’s difficult to do when you own multiple firms that replicate each other.
  • Companies that are allowed to or have the wherewithal to pursue their own future are rare, but being able to have that flexibility is no guarantee of success. Look at Brunswick – an independently owned agency that has that kind of freedom, but is in a stagnant growth path.
  • Lack of growth in a growth market typically means a company isn’t providing what the market wants – regardless of what business you’re in. So one could conclude that the large firms that aren’t growing are either slowly becoming irrelevant or are in significant need of new leadership…or both.

What will be interesting is to look at the numbers four to five years from now and see if these trends have continued. More than likely one or more of these agencies will be subsumed into another to cut costs, reduce redundancy and make the parent entity more relevant. There are a number of other factors at work that could impact this scenario, but given that media holding companies are publicly traded, shareholder expectations may eventually drive the future of the agencies that can’t make their way up the revenue chart.

Five Big Demographic Shifts and What They Mean for PR


Much has been made of how demographic changes – primarily generational – are affecting media consumption. The focus continues to be primarily on Millennials across the world and their propensity to consume media on multiple screens while constantly being on the move.

What’s been missing, however, is a look at even deeper changes that are profoundly altering the demographics of entire countries and regions of the world, and what those changes could mean to the future of PR.
While there are a multitude of demographic changes to consider – such as shifts in wealth distribution, other age related issues, and immigration – the changes associated with age cut across multiple topics. George Magnus, famous economist and author, made some predictions related to age during a presentation he gave to the Conference Board in 2013. Let’s look at the five massive ones and how they impact PR.

1. Older not younger.
Over the next 35 years, there are expected to be more older citizens than children. That means about 418 million people in the world over the age of 60 by 2050. While most Baby Boomers will have since passed by then, that means a lot of older Millennials and Generation Z-ers inhabiting the earth. While their affinity to devices may vary by global region, they will bring their digital expectations with them, providing both opportunities and challenges. Public relations professionals will be tasked with staying current on information that will shift with the needs that come with growing older. That includes healthcare, shopping and travel options. Combine this with a generational expectation of transparency and the role of public relations in both ensuring transparency and combating charges of non-transparency will become even more prevalent.

2. Non-communicable diseases – new epidemics.
According to the Business Insider article, the World Health Organization has called the invisible epidemic of non-communicable diseases responsible for about 60% of deaths globally. The leading culprit is depression, which is expected to become the biggest single cause of disability by 2030. That will likely mean more pharmaceutical solutions entering the market across the world, but also more holistic options with populations in various global regions being more open to them than others. This may also force a more candid and open discussion of the issue and remove some of the stigma related to discussing it. Public relations has an opportunity to help drive this shift while also playing a part in the way different medications will be introduced into the market. The challenge will be to keep the fight against communicable diseases from taking a back seat in terms of awareness.

3. Faster to 60.
More people are reaching 60 than ever before. In most developed countries, it took about 40 – 80 years for those over 60 to double in size of population. In emerging markets, however, the process is playing out in about 20 years with China being the fastest to hit this mark. The result is that many people are growing old before they or the countries where they live can afford it. For PR professionals, this will mean the need for communication strategies tied to what will inevitably be strained resources, new government initiatives related to both financial and physical well-being, and new products touting the ability to help the aging population cope.

4. Who’s going to pay for it?
The issue here is around what is referred to as the old age dependency ratio — the number of workers available to support a single retired citizen. A low dependency ratio is where there are fewer workers available per older citizen. For instance, the 1.5 workers per retiree expected by 2050 in countries like Germany, Japan, Italy, and Spain where weak fertility, rising longevity and more stringent immigration policies are the cause. Meanwhile, economies like Sweden and France are predicted to have higher ratios that will fall from 4-5 workers today to about 2-2.5 by the mid-century. This is mostly due to higher fertility rates and a more open immigration policy. PR may be asked to create campaigns that will 1) keep workers working longer, 2) extol the virtues of helping support the elderly, and 3) loosen immigration policies to ensure a more manageable dependency ratio that isn’t available without it.

5. Exploiting the economic dividend.
There is an ideal economic phase where child dependency is falling and the working age population is expanding, and old age dependency is just on the brink of rising. Growth in income, savings, investment, and technical progress highlight this phase. Once the old age dependency ratio starts to rise, however, then all bets are off as it tends to drag down growth. Strong financial institutions, positive investment climate, stable infrastructure, and ongoing innovation allow countries to exploit this demographic dividend to their benefit. While PR can’t directly affect any of these elements, it can communicate what companies and government institutions are doing to improve and protect them. Consequently, PR will be called on in the future to effectively communicate the economic dividend to help ensure its longevity and benefits.