Next Gen: Future Thinking 2015 - Commstech, sink or swim?

Future thinking is often a mug’s game: too easy to wave vaguely in the direction of what we all see coming; equally easy to be hoisted by the inaccuracies of the specific.

Yet, understanding what’s coming is why a couple of hundred of the UK’s most progressive marketing minds will shortly attend Next Gen: Future Thinking, Results International’s conference where they’ll hear from media like Facebook and Vice and brands like Accenture and expanding international agencies like Cheil and Merkle.

At Waggener Edstrom, it seems to us that agencies born of media relations, of public relations, of influencer relations are increasingly dancing to this song too; while adtech and martech have been around for a few years, our industry is only just arriving.

In the last few years the PR industry has changed beyond recognition, to the point where defining what constitutes PR is like nailing jelly. Most of the top agencies have creative directors and planning directors, community management has moved from shiny, bright cash-cow to relatively straight-forward account team activity. We’re being recognised both at Cannes and in the nation’s boardrooms like never before. One senior ad industry figure who recently moved to a renowned PR agency recently told me that he firmly believed the mad men could learn much more from us than the other way around in a modern always-on, ‘conversation not megaphone’ world.

Through this period of change most, if not all, of us have resisted implementing ‘the ad agency model’. Instead many have favoured a model which takes from both the old PR and ad agency models to create a new hybrid, wrapping in planning, creative and account management, but also recognising distribution as a key fourth leg and allowing us to play equally across paid, earned, owned and shared.

In the same way, it is my firm belief that we shouldn’t simply be seeking to join the worlds of adtech or martech. We need our own world view, one which combines our communications skills of old alongside the very best technology can offer us. We need to embrace commstech.

Commstech is the combination of all the old worlds of public relations… news generation, news prevention, influencer relations etc, combined with digital (blogger relations, community management et al) and through to everything technology today offers us, from programmatic and native advertising to all forms of commerce (e-commerce, m-commerce, f-commerce etc) and the creative opportunities offered by virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and a host of other applications.

The keys to success in a commstech world remain familiar. Demonstrate understanding, implement original-thinking, wrap in a healthy dose of creativity and distribute effectively.

Understanding comes from turning big data into hot data, from large volumes of information into useable pieces of insight. As an example, we have one client which thought its audience was essentially, City-boys; through programmatic advertising and a test & learn programme we revealed that actually their key buying audience was mums with pets in the Home Counties.

This understanding led, as you might expect, to a radical creative overhaul of the content we pushed through their social channels, bought and owned. But it also led to a significant re-targeting of the media and influencers we were trying to reach in an earned media sense. Goodbye the FT, hello Mumsnet. The change tripled the commercial effectiveness of the programme.

This is just one simple example of how data can be turned into insight, and then into creative which influences far more effectively.

Clearly there are a hundred other routes, some paid for, some earned, some owned, some using the right mix of all three, all of which can be used to exert every brand’s favourite elixir – influence.

I’ve spent the last twenty years working in technology-sector communications but what’s clear to me today is that the ‘technology-sector’ now encompasses automotive, beauty, travel, retail, banking & finance, fmcg and pretty much every other sector imaginable.

While we’re at the very start of the commstech journey, make no mistake, there’s no going back. Agencies will either understand the implications of the data and technology tools available – or be increasingly side-lined to low margin commoditized tier three work. Our customers will demand it… because their customers do.

To buy your tickets for the NextGen: Future Thinking 2015 conference, visit the website.

Chris Talago is executive vice-president and general manager, EMEA at Waggener Edstrom

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