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10 Trends to Watch in Marcomms

From convergence and integration right through to a brand’s reputation and influencer marketing, Michael O’Keeffe, CEO of Teneo PSG looks at 10 trends that will dominate the communications landscape in 2018.

 “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” – Charles Darwin.

Our industry is entering an Darwinistic moment. It’s a moment when a world disrupted by the forces of tech, migration, social policy, geopolitical and economic uncertainty actively challenges business and business leaders.

All these forces of disruption and specifically the pace of these changes, filter down to the lives we live. More than ever we crave reassurance.

In turn, clients require new guidance, new advice, new directions and new strategies like never before. The demands and expectations of their business have ever been more complex and challenging. As the complexity compounds which each passing quarter, how communications, PR and strategic advisory firms adapt in this new reality will separate those that thrive from those that simply survive.

1Competitive convergence

We flagged this last year and never is it more true than now. The old model is dead. Clients are seeking more integrated solutions, greater agility and dynamism. The battleground has shifted and the competitive set has morphed.

This is not a new phenomenon but the pace of change has picked up.

Communications firms with digital and creative teams are now creating TV ready content in a more agile and quicker way than traditionally created by creative houses. Short form, snappy and premium content is being created by what were once traditional PR firms.

Some will argue that this may not be good for the traditional PR firm and they are straying too far from home. However, PR professionals are skilled in copywriting and capturing the client’s voice and can seamlessly transition to writing copy and creating content when sitting side by side with creatives.

On the other hand, advertising agencies and creative houses are also looking to get in on the earned media side. 2018 we be a year of competitive convergence where traditional silo’s will be blown away by market realities.

This may lead to unholy alliances, mergers and consolidation.

2The return of integration

When the millennium began, clients mostly favoured “one stop shop” solutions.

Then this model flipped, specialisation driven by digital was the buzz and niche experts became the norm.

Big brands preferred stables of agencies, specialising in everything from crisis communications and reputation management to sponsorship, consumer, PR activation, brand strategy, social media strategy and content creation. This approach to favour multiple agencies has now become unwieldy, and complexity is now the enemy of progress.

In 2018, we will see a return to an integrated model, albeit with a telling difference, the lead strategic agency will assemble the appropriate cross agency team to meet a challenge.

We predict that many brands and businesses will begin to seek lead agencies that can manage integration for and with them, that can deliver single point client service and manage several solutions, with products and services under one roof.

This may lead to strategic partnerships between agencies to provide scale and multiple services and also acquisitions of smaller niche practices. Integrated approach equals consolidation. Watch closely for more M&A movement driven by integration in 2018.

3The New Release

Will the esteemed press release continue its slow decline into irrelevancy and extinction in 2018?

Maybe, but not just yet. ‘Fake News’ and media fragmentation has placed a premium on the media release as a source of veracity and corporate authority.

That said, the convention of lengthy text-heavy press releases is over as they haven’t been particularly effective in generating quality earned media coverage for a while now with media houses under resourced and e-mail in boxes bursting.

The media release continues to be redefined for today’s digital first reality with shorter attention spans and need for visual stimulation. The new release combines graphics, video and quick copy hits. The release is not dead, we are reinventing it.

Video is a driving force.

In Ireland, we watched 254 minutes of “video” per day last year and this is increasing all the time. Video content and distribution will be a top priority for CEO’s seeking to ratchet up corporate engagement in 2018. Some of the most effective PR campaigns of the moment fuse videos and interactive graphics.

Brands themselves are more and more becoming publishers in their own right, often bypassing the media to get to the end target. Video, clever content and clear targeting enables this. However, much of what brands produce is a waste as it is poorly created and often poorly timed. There is a role for content creating agencies to assist brands in this space.

The video will be king again in 2018.

4Digital First Becomes Digital Always

In 2018, Digital will evolve to no longer being a standalone division or a “thing” to become front and centre of all successful firms. It is now the operating reality. Those who have not embraced digital and provide clients with a solution to assist with digital transformation and social media strategy will simply be left behind.

Enough said.

5Value Based Pricing

The old professional services pricing models are dying a rather painful death. Retainers. Hourly rates. Production costs. Admin charges. Agency and consultancy land created them and now they need to be torn down and rebuilt. By sticking rigidly to a somewhat flawed system, we have managed to lower our own value.

The shift has started to charge for productised services and costings based on output and deliverables rather than the traditional inputs.

Communications consultancies, particularly in the more higher value end of the food chain, need to start pricing and charging based on value and importance to the client, not simply input and hours.

2018 will see a move to value based pricing by the better consultancy firms producing excellent business defining work, not hours based pricing. Savvy clients should welcome this.

6Battle for Real Talent and the Return of the Jedi

It may seem strange to say, so soon after economic catastrophe, but we live in a time of economic prosperity. IBEC predicts a 4.2% growth in the economy in 2018. This follows 2017 and almost 6% growth. Unemployment is down to close to 6%, with jobs in abundance so make no mistake, this is an employees’ market at present.

Salaries have been rising steadily in consultancy land, but the cost of living, particularly rent, has meant that employees aren’t necessarily benefitting as much as they should.

The presence of tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, Google and others means there are plenty of well paid jobs for young workers, which increases competition in an already competitive environment.

When you factor in that many small firms do not have full time HR functions, and that with greater convergence and wider service offerings that now exist, the talent requirements have changed, making the recruitment of top talent tricky for many.

We expect the market to become hyper competitive in 2018 and cost bases to challenge agencies and consultancy firms. This may in turn impact output costs and impact client budgets.

One other major HR related trend we predict is a return to the old-fashioned client service director. We call this, The Return of the Jedi.

As client demands become more complex and solutions become more integrated, the need for heavy weight, experienced and personable client relationship leader is more pertinent than ever. It is all well and good having specialist services and experts throughout the business, but being able to manage clients and provide an exceptional service is another.

7Sponsorship to Shift up a Gear & Diversify

The sponsorship market here is estimated to be worth circa €160m with the bulk of spend heading towards sport. Bespoke research carried out by Teneo PSG last month shows that 70% of those engaged in sponsorship intend to spend more in 2018 than they did in 2017. More and more marketing spend is being redirected to sponsorship. Several big brands now spend over 30% of all their marketing spend on sponsorship and sponsorship strategy is often directed by the CEO and Board.

We anticipate that the sponsorship market will grow significantly in 2018, by as much as 15%, driven primarily more by new entrants to sponsorship rather than those who have traditionally engaged in it.

Ireland’s lack of qualification for the 2018 World Cup is a blow, but it won’t halt growth. We anticipate growth in brands investing in female sports stars and sports, minority sports and a big increase in arts and community based sponsorships that may straddle cause related campaigns.

That said, the big three sports, rugby, soccer and GAA will remain buoyant.

2018 is set to be a big year for those working in Sponsorship.

We will see greater sophistication in valuation and measurement approaches and even more clever and ground-breaking creative platforms, sponsor generated content and clever activation. This will improve industry standards and hopefully the fan experience and it will be of massive benefit to rights holders who are also upping their game. Bring it on.

8Talking a Good Game – Walking the Walk

With the battle for talent heating up, and the need to differentiate from your competitors in a meaningful way, many organisations are focusing in on their employer brand.

Brands talk about their values and culture now more than ever before and are feeling the impulse to express themselves more loudly as a great place to work.

Now brands must walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Shiny certificates on the wall are one thing, but if a company outwardly claims it is acting responsibly, it wll be held accountable and the voice of public opinion will hammer you for non delivery or poor behaviour.

We live in a time when companies can get dragged into social media storms. Brands have tried to counter this, but in some cases it has backfired. There is also a particuallry sensitive referendum looming in this market, which will prove divisive and controversial.

Assisting brands commmunicate the good they do and to put shape on programmes they offer is a role that strategic communications conultancies firms will increasingly be asked to perform in 2018.

9CEO Reputation, Resilience and Crisis Readiness

The nature of a crisis means that no one can predict exactly what will happen or when it will happen. But they do and will happen.

The focus on personal behaviour of leaders is a major area to look for in 2018.

In our social age, response times are getting shorter, and with this bad news travels faster.

The threat of a crisis caused by external factors is also starker due to the possibility of  cyber-attacks, terrorism, external political chaos and economic turbulence. The challenge is now that organisations can lose control over the narrative in a crisis. And the narrative is how we navigate a crisis.

After a year of serious and high-profile allegations against politicians, business leaders and celebrities, the personal behaviours of business leaders and CEOs will come under the microscope. A personal scandal involving a high-profile CEO could badly impact the reputation of an entire organisation. Moreover, the crisis that potentially damages reputation the most is the one that shines a light on ethics, integrity, poor corporate governance or culture

Never before has there been such a need for crisis preparedness and growing strategic resilience in companies; specifically, crisis road testing and media training to ensure that organizations and their leaders are protected and ready when a crisis strikes. This is a major opportunity in 2018 for advisory firms and communications practices.

Predict. Prepare. Respond.

10Influencing the Influencers: Measurement Changing the Game

Influencer marketing enters a new phase. It grew in 2017, but will only get bigger in 2018 despite somewhat questionable practices, mixed results, confusion and questionable ROI.

Numerous brands have utilised the services of so called “influencers” to push products and services to generate traffic and business. Influencers, particularly online influencers using clever social media tactics, are undoubtedly a powerful gateway to the target audience to connect with niche audiences and youth audiences as well as the mass market.

That said  many of these people became influencers simply because they had large social media audiences and had clever ways to engage with them. Reach isn’t always relevant and several influencers have spread themselves too thin. At the back end of 2017 many brands drew distinctions between audience size and the ability to really influence..

In 2018 we predict that methods, analysis, utilization and measurement will improve dramatically in next 12 months as new tools emerge to assist communications practitioners and brand owners alike.

Brands that can make better selections of influencers will gain a competitive advantage.

Better data and better insights will lead to less waste and better business results.

So, to conclude with a quote from Richard Branson, “your brand is only as good as your reputation.”

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ January 2018)© to order back issues please call 016611660