Step into my office: the devaluation of the PR and brand communications industry
'Step into my office', a new series of interviews powered by The Future Factory and The Drum Network, focuses on the challenges and the opportunities facing agencies this year. We will be taking a sneak peek into the lives of agencies, how they work, what their motivations are and what their thoughts are on the current state of the industry. This week we talk to Mark Stringer, the founder of Pretty Green, who discusses the biggest challenges facing the PR and brand communications industry.
What does the agency do?
In a sentence, we’re an entertainment, culture and sports agency that drives brand fame for likes of LEGO, Nando’s, John Lewis, Under Armour - to name but a few. We’ve created an agency with a world-class team of creative marketing and media specialists with a mission to create life defining moments for our clients, their brands and ourselves.
How long have you been around?
PrettyGreen was born 4th July 2008 - so we are 8 years young this summer.
What makes you different from your peers?
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We’d argue that it’s not necessarily what you do, it’s how you do it, and whom you do it with that makes the different. We recruit nice people first, talented people second, as we have a belief that clients don’t have to work with you; they choose to work with you.
What have been the biggest challenges over the last year?
As retainers become a distant memory across all sectors, and project fees become the norm, projecting and scheduling teams alongside the ability to manage a budget is probably every board’s nightmare.
The 'now' culture of marketing also means that there is now little or no time for ideation, refinement and crafting the implementation. 2 weeks to respond on a brief, once the standard (or even the worst case scenario) but now seems to be a luxury. With most people now working on an instant messaging response times to email. To quote one client, “let’s just use WhatsApp it’s so much easier”.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities over the next year?
As the marketing landscape continues to collide (some may argue implode), there are a lot of clients and agencies looking for the corners/boundaries to hang-onto. The reality is that clients will still buy great ideas. More importantly, they buy the confidence of agencies who know how to deliver marketing where the power is shifting to a world where earned media and an understanding of how the world of dark arts actually works.
Campaigns that get people talking and create brand fame will always be in demand. Something that for us feels so natural, whether that be a stunt, a short film, leveraging a sponsorship platform or celebrity, creating a 3D experience, engaging people on social, or just telling a clients story via PR. For others they are wrestling with how they learn a whole series of different skill sets.
What do you think the biggest challenges are facing PR & brand communications over the next few years?
To my mind, there are 5 main challenges facing PR and comms agencies, (which if you focus too much on, can be incredibly depressing) however, it's important that we do talk about them and don't try and sweep them under the carpet. We're incredibly excited about the next 3 years and predict double digit growth every year, but it involves our business making sure we are addressing these issues:
1. Demonstrating a clear commercial ROI.
It's something that consumer PR has historically struggled with. Huge awareness numbers via digital reach don't necessarily demonstrate engagement or sales, and therefore creates a credibility gap. Especially when lined up against media and more traditional ad agencies. Impacts need to have an impact on a client’s key metrics, else it's just noise, and we're spending their money without truly caring - which for me is akin to theft.
2. Retainers are terminally ill
Clients are moving (and have moved) to a project model, which is great for clients, but terrible for agencies from the perspective of reducing over serving and business and resource planning. It also means that clients are also probably not getting the level of service and quality of creative and thinking that they should.
3. We've devalued our industry
Fees haven't really changed for 20 years and clients are being allowed to keep fees low thanks largely to agencies not truly valuing or caring about what they do and the work they deliver. This is alongside not being able to articulate the value they bring (see earlier point regarding ROI). There is no such thing as a loss leader. It's a loss. Every client wants to pay the least amount of money they can for the service they require. They want value, and they don't care about price.
Unless agencies, particularly consumer PR agencies start believing more in the value they deliver in terms of strategy, creativity, and commercial return they will continue to talk about the need to join the C suite, to get a seat at the top table. The seat is there, the door is open agencies just need to believe more and deliver the work that merits them being invited inside.
4. Digital integration
Digital is at the heart of every brief and everything every agency does today. But PR agencies need to stop just thinking about owning earned and start thinking in terms of creative ideas that clearly demonstrate integrated thinking. Agencies need to have a focus and be specialist and be clear with what that do and don't do, but understanding how an idea can work and demonstrating that to a client is critical.
5. Don't worry about other agencies worry about clients
We used to worry about media agencies taking our food off the table. Now we're more worried about clients taking projects in-house. Specialist content, creative, PR, event teams are being recruited from agencies across the world to deliver what agencies do, directly with production houses. Why use and agency when you can cut out middle men (who often spend too long trying to reinvent the wheel and talk about strategy)?
Where are you based and why this location?
PrettyGreen is based in Farringdon. We moved from Soho to Clerkenwell 7 years ago as we felt it was a creatively interesting place, it felt more like a village, but with great transport. Over the past few years we’ve seen a huge number of agencies move into the area. Which is good on one hand, but it’s also driving up the rent.
How important is location for you?
The location can be anywhere, as long as it doesn’t deter either clients from appointing you, or staff, joining and staying. More critical is culture you build within the location you choose.
Do you feel the office needs to be quirky and irreverent or simply functional?
We believe the office is incredibly important; it helps to nurture our people and is intrinsic to the culture of the business – so our space reflects the people who work here. But fundamentally the reason our office is as it is, is so that we are have a space that inspires us and enables us to come up the best creative work possible, and be as efficient as we can be in the delivery of it.
We’ve also added lots of personal touches throughout the entire space, from a mural we commissioned when we moved into the building taking pride of place in the boardroom to the company mantras which have been turned into wall art to act as constant reminders of what’s most important – creating life defining moments and driving brand fame.
What we’ve always struggled with; is why would anyone build an office they wouldn’t want to be in 8-12 hours a day? An office that feels stuffy, corporate and creatively draining doesn’t feel like somewhere where brilliant campaigns are born; yet there are 1000’s all across London. We never want that to be part of our make up.
We have a great roster and feel privileged to work closely with some of the best brands in the world. From John Lewis, Virgin Media, LEGO, Nintendo, Under Armour and Nando’s, the range is really broad and enables us to do incredible work.
Name 3 projects you were most proud of in the last year?
Take Andy Murray to The Next Level – Under Armour
The brief was to create something that would become a globally recognised and iconic image – illustrating the part Under Armour is playing in taking Andy Murray to the next level in his game.
So we came up with the idea of getting Andy into a location where he could look across the whole of London, looking towards Wimbledon. We managed to secure One Canada Square which enabled us to physically take Murray to the ‘next level’ by building a platform 770ft above London’s skyline.
Under Armour’s images and content became iconic ahead of Wimbledon - generating more headlines and media coverage (we got every national newspaper) than any other Under Armour sponsorship deal before. We’re also starting to win awards for it – making it a truly memorable campaign for us.
LEGO Imagination Factory
LEGO is known for being awesome, so we knew when we were briefed on creating a consumer experience for families…that it needed to be stand out and amazing – something that would get people as excited as we were.
We devised ‘The Imagination Factory’, Bringing the idea to life, we designed and built a bright and playful faux-factory space - inspired by LEGO’s original ethos of creative free build.
Builders were given free reign, from building their own creations and adding their own personal touches to walls as they queued. Once the factory was fully powered back up with ‘Imagination’ the experience ended with a live interactive performance of 'Everything is awesome'– it’s one of the most fun pieces of work we’ve ever done.
Casillero del Diablo – Sky Movies Sponsorship
What’s not to love about wine…especially when it comes with the chance to leverage the award-winning ‘The Wine Legend’ campaign?
We conceived and activated the biggest ever TV & Film sponsorship for Sky, a 12-month partnership that saw our idents feature on a total of 17 channels, accompanying some 55,000 films and reach an estimated 44million. The partnership was promoted on-pack with a creative we developed for over 4 million bottles, complete with exciting offers including a ‘legendary’ trip to Hollywood and free Sky subscriptions with Sky Movies.
We’ve had a number of great client wins this year (with a 45% conversion rate), been nominated for a number of awards, alongside being able to bring home some silverware, but what drives us is that we could always be better – it’s what keeps us going!
We only exist for our clients and what is actually more rewarding is knowing that we’ve delivered campaigns that have helped clients like 9BAR grow a key retailer by 70%, John Lewis outperform the market at Christmas, and LEGO see a 99% propensity off the back of our activity.
Playing a part in the success of our clients is success to us.
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