Real-time Branding Needs Real-time Branders

As we head into the home stretch of 2012, Weber Shandwick and many of our clients are focused on business plans for 2013. Neck deep in that process for Weber Shandwick Seattle, my leadership team and I have been asking ourselves what has changed in the past year? There are several ways to answer that question. For me, one of the most telling indications of change – in our office and in our agency more broadly – is the type of talent we are hiring. In the past year alone, we’ve staffed even more aggressively with creative writers, graphic designers and video producers. The creation of compelling content – in a variety of forms – is rapidly becoming the driving force of our business.

To understand why, we need to look at what’s happening within the marketing communications industry. Fundamentally, the industry is recognizing that reputation, brand and customer experience have never been more directly linked. Historically, the role of public relations agencies has been to help clients manage their brand and reputation, mostly through the filter of third parties, like the news media. In today’s “always-on” world, people are able to directly engage and instantly shape brands.

The implication for public relations agencies is that we need to invest in practices to help clients with that direct engagement – through new forms of content, platforms and communities. And that means investing very heavily in people who are content creators. Clients rely on us to engage and manage their communities in real-time, so there needs to be a much closer relationship between content creators and the people who use that content to engage. Real-time branding needs real-time branders.

Weber Shandwick is hardly unique in its investment in creative services and content creation specialists. What will set us up for delivering on our potential to be real-time branders for our clients is how well we integrate these new skillsets into our organization and client teams. We’ve found that the most successful integration of new services and the people who provide them happens when those people are client-facing and embedded into account teams. We’re creating a new model and asking clients and our staff to develop new ways of communicating and reaching audiences. That won’t happen unless we put these new capabilities front and center and ensure the services are top-of-mind during account planning and execution.

We recently managed a major event for a client where the visual aspect of the story was absolutely critical. In the days immediately preceding the event, the client’s CEO was not happy with his internal designers and writers. We brought in people from our account team who had the skills to get the job done quickly. The event was a big success – due in large part because we had people immediately available who had the technical skills, knowledge of the client’s business and direct interaction with the CEO and his team.

So, I enter this year’s planning season more excited for the future than I’ve ever been. There is a very compelling argument that public relations agencies are much more suited for playing the lead role in the marketing mix for our clients. We have fundamentally always been about engagement and relationship management. Today, there are simply more ways to engage. And Weber Shandwick continues to invest in people with the necessary skills to help clients engage in the variety of ways needed to drive business success. That bodes well for our clients. 2013, here we come.

Image courtesy of Search Engine People Blog.

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