As Porter Novelli celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, the agency reflects on the foundational tenets of its business and anticipates where and how things will change in the coming decades. In the years since 1972, Porter Novelli has grown from a single, start-up company in the founders’ basement to a global network with 90 offices in nearly 60 countries. While Jack Porter and Bill Novelli began the company as an experiment in combining the power of marketing with the desire to do well, today Porter Novelli is recognized as an industry-leading strategic communications agency specializing in insight-driven behavior change.
“What Porter Novelli has done in four short decades is create profound cultural change through our clients and their brands that goes beyond creating awareness or even action,” said Michael Ramah, acting CEO, Porter Novelli. “We’ve made it our business to make people believe in the change.
“Rather than continue to look back, at this our 40th anniversary, we’ve asked our global leaders to identify what’s new and what’s next for the business of communications,” Ramah continued.
Much has been said and written about information overload and the proliferation of content—it is found in more places, from more sources, at more times, and in more formats than ever. This, ironically, has led many to question the role of the “classic” PR practitioner.
The Evolution of the Pitch
With social media channels firmly embedded in the workplace, the use of traditional communication tools such as email will only continue to decline. Video is becoming the standard, which means we’ll see more video events, video collateral and a more collaborative workforce.
So what does this mean for communication? The world is moving toward edible bites of information which are highly relevant to specific audiences. In 40 years, no one will even mention digital anymore. Media tools and channels will come and go, but we will always find ways to reach target audiences. Communicators must be smart enough – always – to go where the audiences are. Successful communicators will continue to explore, investigate and experiment with the cutting edge so we are prepared for the next great thing.
– Karen van Bergen, Senior Partner, Managing Director, New York
The People Will Continue to be Heard
Global publishing power lies in the hands of anyone with a smart phone – so the punishment for failing to listen, engage, anticipate and respond effectively to influencers will be severe.
There will be an increasing ability over the next few years to globalize a narrative – or voice of a company/brand – via the communications and social media industries. Global publishing allows us to bring global markets together or homogenize markets so that the overall customer experience is the same, no matter where you are in the world.
While there is freedom in how content is created, there will always be a need for independent, third-party organizations. News organizations will exist, but the question will be how they will deliver the news. Some outlets are already online only. Broadcast will continue, however the question is whether the content will be delivered via your TV, your computer or your tablet, or some newer, yet-to-be-developed device. The transition in the concept of content has already been made.
Our job as strategic communicators has evolved beyond the one dimensional PR industry that people think they know, which is press releases, and the traditional support in calling media. Because content has changed, the mediums have changed, the channels have changed. So we have to control the narrative, control the story – across the globe – on a constant basis and evolve with the medium. And understand what the channels of communication are to make sure we’re tapping into the right audiences at any time and in any place.
– Rich Cline, Senior Partner, Global Head of Technology/Digital
Influence from the Ground Up
The importance of influencers will only continue to grow, and to create true engagement around brands we must accept the fact that customers make the brand. We need to let go of the brand as a self-centered media object and embrace it as a dynamic collaboration between the company, community and influencers. This underscores the need for experts/specialists who can help navigate all the information that exists today – because everyone is a generator of information.
The truth is – this is probably the death of the PR generalist as we know it today. The beauty of PR as we practice it today is built upon the fact that we can get smart fast and build up a body of knowledge over time. We can move from area to area. But in the future this is going to become much more difficult to do. The generalists as we know them today will become little more than architects in the future, who bring together specialists to work against the blueprint.
– Michael Ramah, Acting CEO
The Rise of Mobile
Ads, Facebook ‘likes’ and positive stories are all desirable, but what happens in the last 10 feet of the shopping aisle truly shapes business. Mobile has a huge opportunity to influence product selection when a shopper is on the floor and impact last-minute decisions. But marketers must think beyond the usual Twitter/Facebook suspects. The “last 10 feet” at the point-of-purchase will become the crucial battlefield where customers will be won and lost. Media and marketing firms are whetting their knives for this multi-billion dollar market. Chances are that whoever can establish a strong foothold will hold the keys to the client’s complete social media/digital castle. Key words for this new environment and profile-driven connections are advanced analytics, predictive profiling, augmented reality, on mobile interaction, in store navigation, proximity marketing, location awareness, profile broadcasting, mobile couponing and peer-recommendation, all centered around SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile).
The future is SoLoMo. The handheld device, be it a smartphone, a tablet, or even a watch is the window to the world for the consumer, and the most lucrative and likely point of entry. Communication will be driven through interactive apps, intelligent browsers and profile adaptive smartphones. Phones have already become a bank, press office, office, communications center. Looking ahead, in healthcare, home and industry automation, fitness and fast moving consumer goods, handheld devices are the key to the treasure.
Traditional PR and communication needs to be rethought completely, as the impact of communicating through press and journalists is dwindling with the minute. Brand to community and community to community communication kills the traditional B2B and B2C thinking. Communication that is not fast, not community driven and not mobile accessible loses relevance. The stars of the next generation of PR professionals are people with a feel for bleeding edge technology – for augmented reality, for peer reviewing, for crowd control, crowd sourcing, crowd funding, for profiling and for mobile platforms.
– Luc Missinne, Senior Partner, Managing Director, Brussels and Paris
China – The Next Big Thing
China continues to attract brands that want to enter the Chinese market where they hope to see huge volume growth. While PR in China has traditionally been very basic, increasingly we’re seeing two evolutions: the incorporation of market entry into PR programs and the explosive growth of social media. PR has moved beyond the traditional print media, celebrity announcement and big launch to become much more nuanced, playing an integral role in helping introduce brands into the Chinese market.
Additionally, the rate at which social media is overtaking traditional media in China is overwhelming. Clients are requesting strategies and programs that look first at social engagement and then traditional media. Traditional measurement of column inches in target publications has become nearly obsolete, and in its place is social content which can be immediately liked, commented on and shared worldwide across various social platforms.
Increasingly clients are demanding that we work with multiple agencies across discipline’s as PR agencies rarely have the correct infrastructure in place to support a client’s 360 requirements. As a result we’re seeing less formalised team structures and a flexibility we haven’t seen before in our recruitment: people who have the aptitude and capabilities to work together across agencies and wear different hats accordingly to the role they need to play.
Looking ahead in China I think the really important growth area is going to be market entry. It’s already been something we’ve been working on for five years and it’s just becoming more important as PR is taking a more sophisticated role in linking together pricing strategy, channel strategy and selection and relationships with government and regulators. The role is just getting more and more important and more sophisticated in that area. The second area that is going to keep tracking, keep moving is social media. There’s been an explosion of the use of the different channels in China – they keep overlapping and get more complicated. Whereas we’ve been content in the last few years to operate with, say, monthly content calendars, it’s now moved so that we’re now looking at treating social media as a constant experiment in listening and responding, and this is the way I can really see this moving in the future.
– John Orme, Senior Partner, President, Porter Novelli China