Put any random group of communications experts in a room and, after the inevitable bout of slander, in-jokes and general unrepeatable gossip, the conversation is likely to turn to that age-old question of where are we, as an industry, going next.
For a profession that has always prided itself in being future-facing and concerned with chasing the next big thing, faster than anyone else, it is remarkable that the way we work has not changed much in the past 30 years. And no one seems to have all the answers about where we will be standing in the next 30 years.
Sure, we have seen a tidal shift from print to online; ‘blogger’ is no longer a dirty word when you can’t get any ‘real’ media attention; and we can now pepper our communications with tweets for journalists, rather than simply phone, email or, for the oldies in the room, fax.
However, we still preoccupy ourselves with geographical borders, press releases and media lists, stringent business hierarchy and all the trappings of Generation X – or baby boomer – PR.
It seems to me, as one of Generation X, and founder of communications agency FinchFactor, that we are missing a massive trick in failing to truly innovate, collaborate and lead the way to a new age of communications.
FinchFactor specialises in building the reputations of those within the spheres of the creative industry, consumer technology and start-ups. This has given us a rather unusual viewpoint of the way that creativity is moving forwards and how the PR industry, in particular, should follow suit.
The advertising industry has woken up to the new way of doing things and has adopted more of an entrepreneurial, start-up mentality. When done well, this infiltrates every atom of the business’s DNA – from the office layout to the way they interact with clients on work flow as well as internally, to the type of projects they take on, and the terms on which they offer their services to clients.
I would like to challenge the brightest PR stars to take a long, hard look at the way we work and make the radical – sometimes painful – moves necessary to keep us in the game, let alone ahead of it. How? Well, I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers, but, to get those creative juices flowing, I have put together a PR self-help guide. Just don’t call me Dear Deirdre.
How to win friends and influence people
Collaboration is a word we bandy round a lot. But do we really practice what we preach? I have seen the future of PR and it’s all about working closely with skilled marketing and communications professionals from all sides of the equation, to combine our areas of expertise more effectively.
The worst words you can utter within earshot of a PR person is: “The idea’s very PR-able.” Which is exactly why we should be getting involved with all parties right at the start of the creative process to allow ideas to blossom into campaigns that fire on all ‘consumer touch-point’ cylinders.
True collaboration inspires a sense of community within an organisation to the point where employees feel as if they are part of a family. Moreover, it allows learning from each other, whatever level we are at.
And that’s another thing. Isn’t it time we stopped worrying about the minor distinctions between account manager, senior account manager, PR exec, tea boy, Charlie Big Potatoes? Tech companies know that good ideas and sound thinking can come from any of us. By taking away the labels and setting the people free, we can help brands to be better, stronger and more in tune with consumers and media.
We also need to test and learn more. If we look at the ways that advertising has borrowed from start-up culture, there are some clear take-aways: engaging more effectively, personalising, focusing on the fun, being more transparent and, perhaps most important, creating a sense of community. This means a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’, whether we work for the brand, the PR agency, the digital agency, the ad agency… you get the idea.
At FinchFactor, this is something that comes naturally to us. With years of experience working with, and for, the leading figures in the creative industry, we understand how all the parts of the puzzle work and how to get the best out of them.
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
So what is better than working collaboratively with professionals in your field? Bringing them together from different parts of the world, and blending their range of distinct perspectives to create stunning campaigns. It is one of the things we have always been passionate about cultivating at FinchFactor.
Each of us is aware of the others’ know-how and expertise, but we also know that none of us, individually, is as smart as all of us combined. With 10 plus nationalities in a team of 10 (don’t ask how the maths works, it just does), based in the European cultural melting pot Amsterdam, we understand how communication works globally.
We worship at the church of ‘borderless communication’. This is the main reason that I took the plunge this year and launched our first outpost, FinchFactor London. Brands kept telling us that they wanted to work with people who didn’t see the world in terms of borders and territories – who knew what would make a São Paulo teenager tick to the same extent as a Soho ad man.
Adjusting to a borderless system is particularly crucial for our daily bread – press coverage. Getting ink in the local newspaper is no longer enough, and it is just as likely that the São Paulo teenager is going to be reading PSFK or Buzzfeed as the Folha de São Paulo (yes, that is its real name).
Take Genius.Travel, for instance – an innovative travel search engine, founded in Amsterdam, and one of the many start-ups we have been working with. We were briefed to launch the platform to the US and UK markets. One glowing feature on US-based site Lifehacker later and suddenly customers are flooding in from territories as diverse as New Zealand and Russia, and the brand is tailoring its future business strategy to play to these unexpected, yet hugely interesting, markets.
So there’s my challenge for all of us out there – me included. The future’s an exciting place for those of us lucky enough to work within the communications industry, but only if we seize the moment and capitalise on the opportunities ahead. Or in the words of that other rather well-read self-help book: Feel the fear, and do it anyway.
Founder and CEO
12 Soho Street