Despite caution, if not downright pessimism, prevailing in the marketplace during 2009, Marcus Brewster Publicity (MBP) managed a spectacularly successful year, with turnover up by more than 100%. The reason for our success is predicated on the following nine trends identified and adapted to in the last 12 months.
The takeout from a world gone bad with financial institutions imploding was the importance of trust. Banks were - to quote a wildly inappropriate simile - as safe as houses, weren't they? When some of the biggest financial brands in the world went belly up, people started to re-evaluate what was important to them and clearly the issue of trust - or reputation as it's referred to in PR speak - became the single biggest marketing driver of corporate recovery.
Since PR is a spectacularly successful modality through which to build and maintain reputation, PR was a big winner in the economic down-cycle since it provided the required lifeline solution to corporates - the restoration of stakeholder trust and the building of positive reputation. MBP's biggest account gains this year were all blue-chip clients seeking reputation management.2. PR's rising tide
One trend I particularly noticed this past year was the number of new PR account gains. Earlier on in the decade, advertising agencies dominated the Accounts Won
columns. This year, whole weeks would pass without traditional ATL advisories of new business gained, yet the columns would be full of PR agency wins.
I ascribe this to both a lower cost to entry for PR (making the industry attractive to budget-cut marketers), as well to a growing understanding of the value which the discipline brings to the marketing mix.3. Measurement
Although never far from the water-cooler, the topic of measurement came up frequently this year. Presumably because of the tightness of the recession, clients were demanding more from all their marketing services suppliers, including PR.
The bottom line is that if you can't justify a result from a campaign, then it must be deemed unsuccessful. Because our agency methodology is so tightly aligned to client's commercial objectives, we were able to produce significant ROI for clients - so much so that our second biggest revenue generator (after new blue-chip client gains) was increased spend from existing clients.
Several of our retainers were upped this year specifically because clients could see a direct correlation between the PR effort and the bottom line.4. Re-evaluating the role of publicity
Agencies that only offer - or only measure - their outputs in terms of media liaison were completely left behind this year. It was no longer acceptable to sit around a boardroom table and boast of the “thud factor” (referring to the size and weight of the press cuttings file). Those agencies - and their clients - who still used the terms publicity and PR synonymously, were swept away by the tide of developments in the profession this year.
Some of MBP's most successful campaigns (viz our PRISM Gold award-winning campaign in the B2B category) were very light on media publicity since there were better more direct ways of engaging with the relevant stakeholders. 5. Social media
Let's get it out the way. It was huge this year. PR was perfectly placed to drive this medium since blogger out-takes are a reputational barometer (cf point 1) and since online or mobile communities are best understood in the PR theoretical model as another audience of stakeholders to be engaged with.6. Aliteracy
Newspaper publishers probably noticed it before we did - but the average reading age is rising and the Twilight generation just doesn't seem interested in traditional media. In my spare time, I run charity book sales under the banner of Well Read Books so I have a pretty clear picture of who's reading and what kinds of genres are popular.
In addition, I've been interviewing graduates for years for placement in our intern programme and I was struck this year at how responses to the question “What do you read?” simply stalled. Whereas most of the girls used to rattle off Cosmo
as favourite reads, now the best I can get out of them is that they go online for information. In short, they're aliterate - they can
read, but choose not to read - traditional media, anyway.7. Fun
Having just conducted an agency-wide feedback session during our annual staff conference, the repeated references to fun (eg. that would be a fun client to work on) was marked. Either because times are gloomy or it's simply in the DNA of the newest workforce generation, but clearly the need or want to have fun at work is significant.8. Pitching ability
Although I have indicated above that publicity is now a spoke in the PR wheel and not a synonym for the wheel itself, the ability to pitch to media efficiently and professionally became more important this year.
Because of the increase in the number of PR agencies due to the rising PR tide (cf point 2) , more and more lamentably under-qualified staff set up their shingle to trade. With journalists reporting between 200 and 800 incoming press release emails per day, a PR firm's ability to sidestep being the victim of the Delete Unread button became a significant factor.9. Chemistry meeting
A new trend this year was the advent of the chemistry meeting. Historically, the pitch process for PR consultancies followed a fairly regular formula: you were invited to pitch for a piece of business, you submitted a proposal or were invited in to present your show-and-tell and finally a successful agency was notified.
This year, chemistry meetings were introduced at the middle stage - before you were invited to pitch and present. This would seem to indicate a growing importance on the role of relationships between agency and client, a trend we will be sure to comment on in 2010.