Porter Novelli CEO Gary Stockman Joins President, Global Business Operations and CFO Anthony Viceroy to Reflect on the Pitfalls and Possibilities of Turbulent Times
From the global financial crisis to the meteoric rise of social media, the past eight months have been a season of unprecedented change. As there are some signs that the crisis may be easing, it seems a good time to assess what happened. Over the course of a comprehensive and wide-ranging conversation, Porter Novelli’s CEO Gary Stockman and Global President and CFO Anthony Viceroy offer insights and analysis on how the agency managed to not only weather the turbulent times, but also find the inherent possibilities in the crisis and emerge stronger than ever.
In the final part of this interview series (read part one here, part two here and part three here), Stockman and Viceroy discuss the dramatic convergence of public relations, communications and marketing, and what they found most inspiring throughout the economic crisis.
Over the past couple of years, public relations, communications and marketing have all changed—some will say converged—dramatically. What is your perspective on this change and how will it progress?
GS: Communications have changed fundamentally, and that process of change continues to accelerate. In part it is accelerating because companies are demanding that their marketing partners work together to drive results more efficiently. And what you are seeing come out of that is greater communications integration and collaboration. You’re also seeing a creative meritocracy, where the best ideas rule, whether they come from public relations, advertising, direct or digital. Clients are looking for ideas that will help them break through and achieve measurable results, no matter where they come from. I think that’s why there has been this move toward integration, and I think it is a good thing. It is going to not only drive efficiency, it is going to drive higher levels of creativity.
This shift means a couple of things for public relations. It means the need for us to practice what we at Porter Novelli call Intelligent Influence—finding the optimal mix of communications tools and techniques to get people to change their attitudes and beliefs. It also means we are looking to hire people who are passionate about communications, who are engaged in social media and who are fast learners. And increasingly, people who are comfortable with ambiguity, knowing that the communications landscape is going to be changing in another four to six months anyway.
Can you talk a little bit more about that comfort with ambiguity?
GS: Look back to the communications landscape even 12 months ago. Twitter was out there, but people weren’t using it so much. Over the past year, social media has just exploded. New forms and new innovations are coming along almost on a daily basis. When I started in this business, people developed a playbook over time. This is how we do media relations, this is how we do press kits, this is how we do announcements, this is how we do thought pieces. It was not quite formulaic, but there certainly was a playbook. These days, there is no playbook. And when you have no playbook, you have to have all-stars on the field. In my mind, all-stars are people who have the characteristics I talked about: passion for communications, engagement in social media, an ability to learn fast and a comfort with ambiguity—because the game is going to be changing week to week and month to month.
Do you think Twitter will be around in a year?
GS: I do believe it will be around; I think somebody is going to wrap something around it that makes it more mainstream and commercial. Here’s the thing—and I have learned this in spite of my own natural inclinations (laughs)—people have an incredible need to express themselves and you can’t bottle it up. So while half the stuff on Twitter is nonsense, the other half is actually pretty interesting and pretty timely and pretty relevant. And so long as there is enough good content coming out that combines with people’s insatiable desire to express themselves, it is going to be around.
What has most inspired you over the past turbulent year?
GS: People’s desire to be optimistic and believe in things. We need to find ways to inspire more of that kind of engagement, because people really want to be a part of something. And they are more inclined to be optimistic than you would think.
AV: The talent at Porter Novelli has really embraced change better than anyone could have ever predicted. All of us coming in, all the new hires, all the new clients we have picked up – they inspire me. There has been one constant and that has been a winning attitude. In times like this, you are really tested. Talk is cheap. Now is when you see who has the ability to rise above the rest. Every single day our entire workforce has come here and proven they want to win. That to me has been remarkable to see every day.
What has been most encouraging?
GS: Two things. One is the talent we have been able to add. When I look at Peter Pitts and KiKi McLean and Anthony, the addition of that talent is the thing that is most encouraging and exciting. And the other is the response of clients and prospects when we tell our story well.
AV: Well thank you—I’m in good company [laughs]. What I find to be most encouraging is that we are not done thinking about how we can be better. Every day brings new challenges, but also new opportunities to create an organization that is truly focused on great clients and great talent. There are always going to be great opportunities out there. We just have to be relevant in the marketplace, strategic in our insights and flawless in our execution.
What can Porter Novelli provide clients better than any other agency?
AV: A better model—that is strategic insights coupled with strong digital and social media capabilities that produce measurable results for our clients. It all begins with really understanding your clients, their brands and the most effective way to reach and influence consumers who are using or should be using their brands. Our entire global organization continues to focus on executing flawlessly against our value proposition for our clients.
GS: I would say it comes back to our value proposition of Intelligent Influence: Helping clients change attitudes and beliefs by having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. The challenges clients face today are, How do you mount a comprehensive campaign to achieve this, and Are your partners able to collaborate and integrate and bring the expertise that you as a client need to win? I think we do that particularly well. Intelligent Influence is about leveraging all the communications tools out there to help clients change attitudes and actions. We are particularly good at that.