"They need to take us seriously!" How often have you heard practitioners say that as they trudge dejectedly from the boardroom? Many execs see PR as fluffy powder puff. But in our brave new world, the PR/comms game has changed. There has never been a better opportunity to show our C-suite that any fluff has long gone.
For the past 20 years I’ve sat on, and observed, many different board and senior leadership teams. There have been two consistent elements: a commitment from each board member to the concrete targets they will achieve as individual functional leads, and a strong commercial acumen each director brings to general board discussions.
Bluntly, if WE want to be taken seriously then we have to arrive on equal terms. Not only accepting, embracing and encouraging concrete goals and metrics for our department, but understanding the ‘business of the business’. To connect our campaigns to the daily commercial reality that most of our ‘peers’ live with. In other words: lose the fluff, develop commercial understanding, and deliver counsel that impacts the bottom line.
For many years the industry has been unwilling or unable to prove the impact it makes. Now, with the analytics and insights at our disposal, it’s far easier and more cost-effective to demonstrate the impact of our historically ethereal black magic.
I’ve always believed we need a more scientific approach to measuring the commercial impact of what we do, to be able to command a seat in the boardroom. As an industry we need to embrace far greater accountability to be taken seriously. Our reluctance to place a firm finger on the 'value' associated with our services baffles many financiers and C-suite execs.
Many in the industry somehow regard sales or selling as ‘grubby’. But it’s what we do! We sell ideas, we sell ways to influence, and we should be helping our clients to sell their products and services.
We need to take far more pride in our commercial impact.
First, invest time with the wider marketing team, go ‘carry a bag’ with the sales guys for a while; understand the pressures they face and why they lose as well as win deals. Speak constantly to partners and customers. What gaps do you see? How could you help close them?
Research the analytics now available. Really think about what you and your exec team want your comms budget to achieve. Set goals that map directly back to the commercial targets of the company (even if that means you need to spend a couple of quarters benchmarking data). Use your research, insight and audience data to scale and connect audiences, campaigns and the products/services you provide. If you bring all that insight back into the boardroom you will be a truly valuable resource.
The ascendancy of content marketing has presented a great opportunity.
We can now reach audiences in new and compelling ways. We’ve got a very tangible opportunity to shake off the soft and fluffy shackles and replace that jaundiced view by proving we have a hard-headed understanding of the pounds and pence at stake.
By using insight-based creative that connects customer and product we can have a direct, visible impact on the business.
By owning content and creative to tell stories, we can drive conversations and engagement that influences purchase behaviour.
By talking the language of business, we can demonstrate the ability to bridge between customers and the boardroom. We need to visualize data and tell a story using the language and lexicon of the boardroom.
Execs hire us to help sell stuff: not just deliver creativity for the sake of it (I’d even argue that ‘brand building’ is really just longer-term sales support). By getting closer to the customer, adopting content marketing and developing a commercial mindset we should be able to retire ‘Ab Fab’ to the annals of history.
Not a powder puff in sight…
Chris Talago is EVP and GM of Waggener-Edstrom EMEA.