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Talent, Inspiration & Innovation: A Look at ICCO 2016

By Melanie Joe, Consultant – Research and Insights, MSLGROUP

‘Talent, Inspiration and Innovation – Creating the Consultancy of the Future’: this was the 2016 theme for the ICCO Global PR Summit, held in the historic city of Oxford this year. Two power-packed days of keynotes, panel discussions and networking later, I must admit I was a little overwhelmed by the sea of new ideas and insights I came back with. Overwhelmed, but delighted! What should recruiters do to attract and retain talent? How can companies turn into engaging storytellers? When and how can data be leveraged for creative and effective communications? These questions and more – much more – were raised during the summit, and the solutions truly did reflect the futuristic direction the PR industry is slowly but surely taking. PR agencies can do a lot for themselves and their brands to be abreast with the changing communications landscape, and here are some of my top takeaways:

1. Winning the War for Talent in an Ever-Competitive Industry

Attracting and retaining talent is one of the most pressing challenges today for agencies. Convincing fresh talent to choose you over competitors – and then to stay put – is more difficult today than it ever has been. In this context, agencies must adapt and tailor their approach to match the expectations and needs of today’s employee.

  • Make your talent strategy as critical to work as your business strategy
    In this business, we are as good as the talent we have. So it is crucial to have a well-thought-out approach for recruitment – give recruitment as much importance as all other aspects of running the business. The future of recruiting depends on companies’ ability to take a fresh look at talent, and it is time for a clean slate and newer ideas.
  • Embrace diversity like your future depends on it – because it does!
    The more diverse the people that make up an organization, the more value they can bring to clients and the company. Ideas are at the core of communications, and ideas from a diverse group can only aid innovation. Create a workplace environment that is vibrant and inclusive – embrace diversity in communities, age groups, genders, and perspectives.

The networking group Global Women in PR (GWPR) unveiled some insightful research from their Gender Pay Gap Survey at ICCO, and it highlights the significant pay gap between the salaries of men and women in PR, based on data collected from 12 countries. Given how agencies are evolving with the change in times, this data is particularly troubling, and needs serious consideration.

For a truly global workforce, it is necessary to facilitate the same opportunities for talent from everywhere.

  • Make workplace engagements specific to each market
    An engaged employee is more invested in your company – and the best way to engage employees is to make workplace activities relevant to their geography, culture, and roles. Avoid sweeping generalizations about employees – the inevitable inaccuracies arising from this can be detrimental to a work environment that is conducive for optimal productivity.
  • Employ technology and data in the quest for talent
    Can more innovation help in attracting talent? Absolutely! Make the best use of available technology to search for the kind of talent most relevant to your company, and integrate technology in the hiring process. For instance, a virtual reality tour of your office could be one of the ways to catch the attention of prospects.
  • Speak loudly and proudly about your business
    Lastly, be your own ambassador. Be proud – stopping just short of haughty! – of what you do, and give people a reason to want to be a part of your story.

2. Redefining Brand Culture in the Conversation Age

A brand today is not what it used to be as recent as two decades ago; a lot has changed for consumers, companies, and society. Even the most established brands need to, every now and then, re-evaluate their identity and purpose to correspond with the ever-changing tides.

Pascal Beucler ICCO Oxford

  • Connect the firm’s brand with the brand of the individual
    Brands don’t exist independently – they are a reflection of the people and society at large. Align your brand’s existing principles with those that match the consumer’s, to be a more memorable – and sought-after – brand.
  • Prepare for convergence across platforms
    As our SVP and Chief Strategy Officer Pascal Beucler highlighted in his presentation on the evolution of brand culture, the age of convergence is here; it is time to adapt. Communicate at the speed of culture; devise your brand strategy such that it is in tune with the latest in technological, mobile, societal and collaborative areas. Not only does this convergence give people more power over their choices, but also helps brands – and their agencies – gain significant insights.
  • Be relatable. Be approachable. Be human.
    Brand communication is no longer a one-way street; today a real conversation involving both sides – brands and consumers – is easy and feasible. This makes it all the more important for brand communication to be more relatable for people. Think about your brand’s relationship with customers in more human terms. Speak their language; be warm, genuine and transparent enough for them to be able to look at you as a person and not a corporation.

3. Turning Companies into Storytellers

Stories touch, move, delight, inspire. One of the most effective ways brands can reach people is through stories – when the narrative is engaging and creative, it holds the attention of the consumer for that much longer. Without stories, the brand of the future cannot thrive.

  • Make the content worth people’s time
    Great content is the currency for engagement; give people a compelling reason to click, like, share, and endorse. Explore different types of storytelling that include diverse content varieties like branded, native and experiential content. Pull out all stops to tell a story that captures attention and inspires action.
  • Identify the corner your brand fits in, before creating a story
    Every story needs a reason to be told; identify that reason before embarking on the storytelling journey. What works for Brand A will not necessarily work for Brand B. Find a narrative and style that is most suitable for your brand, for your audience, and for your purpose.
  • Consumers have an appetite for personalization. Make it happen.
    Marketers have observed the average increase in sales when content is personalized – that reason alone should motivate brands to personalize their communication! Aim to create stories that resonate with individuals, and not a mass target audience. Make the consumer experience unique with highly personalized stories.

4. Creating Market Share through Reputation And Trust

For a company today, reputation is everything. Gone are the days when tangible assets made up a big part of a company’s reputation – today, intangible assets significantly influence reputation. Never has business reputation been more relevant than today, when consumers value brand transparency and honesty above most other aspects of a brand.

  • Customize your reputation for different stakeholders
    The kind of reputation a brand holds may be different across different audiences and stakeholders. Investors, for instance, may not use the same parameters to judge a brand’s reputation as consumers do. In this context, it becomes imperative for companies to customize, so to speak, their reputation as required.
  • Facilitate the creation of a good perception of value
    A consumer’s perceived value of a brand weighs heavily on whether or not they engage with the brand. It is possible to increase a brand’s perception value by paying attention to and adapting to a few things. Enable consumers to have a positive perception value through people-centric strategies and honest, transparent communication.
  • Influence reputation with behavior, networks and narratives
    A brand can influence its reputation, but never control it. The reputation that has been built over years can come crashing down in an instant, which is why maintaining reputation is an ongoing task. Companies can sustain reputation through strategic behavior, wide and influential networks and relevant narratives.

Puzzle Pieces

5. Understanding Consumers through Behavioural Science

The art of communications is all about humanizing the message – and this can be done even more effectively by applying the science of human behavior to develop brand strategies. Learning what drives people to behave and respond in certain ways in invaluable for communicators, and the PR industry has much to gain by testing behavioral insights more often.

  • Tap into human behavioral insights to maximize value for clients
    Emotions continue to play a huge role in consumer decision-making, and analyzing it in detail will only help further the client’s reputation with consumers – and clients are forever interested in behavioral insights given how evidence-based they are.

6. Leveraging Creativity and Data to Drive Innovation

Investing in innovation may seem expensive in the present, but it is always with more-than-satisfactory payoffs in the long run. Making creative thinking a priority helps in getting closer to innovation, and also helps determine what a client’s most important priorities are, and the best way to achieve their objectives.

  • Think beyond the “Big Idea”. “Spikey Ideas” work equally, if not better
    One of the speakers at ICCO happened to mention the need for more “spikey” ideas in the creative process; ideas that enable many activations, and manifest themselves across channels – just like spikes. The concept of these spikey ideas are appealing because at the core of spikey ideas are meaningful insights; human insights, social insights, and brand/product insights. Most importantly, spikey ideas have at the core a persuasive human truth or purpose – and this is what is most needed to humanize the art of communications.
  • Make data beautiful and shareable
    Data is more than just numbers and graphs; it is also about the packaging, about how innovatively facts and figures are presented. Innovate by enabling data to flow naturally to tell a story that resonates with the right people at the right time, in the right way.

Creating the consultancy of the future with fresh talent, inspired ideas, and creative innovation is the need of the hour, and the time to start – now!

Melanie Joe_B&W
With a specialization in Advertising, Melanie has worked in the digital space with brands from the banking, healthcare, oil & energy, political and consumer sectors. She has also worked on media buying campaigns across print, radio, television and OOH. At MSLGROUP, she tracks inspiring digital initiatives for People’s Insights. Connect with her on twitter: @melanie_joe

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