PR at a Crossroads: The Recipe for Reinvigoration, Part 1

In 2014, I took the reins of two firms, Racepoint Group, a midsize global public relations agency, and Digital Influence Group, a digital marketing group with creative and social at its core.  My first act was to combine the firms into a single entity – not as a defensive gesture, but as a product of my vision that individual consumers of information no longer cared whether the media they relied on was earned or paid.  Rather, they cared that it could be delivered to them in the format and on the platform they preferred.  If someone preferred video on Facebook, we delivered our clients’ messages there.  If it was long-form earned in The Atlantic or The Wall Street Journal, we took the message there.  The combined firm, Racepoint Global, represented the first truly integrated communications firm in our industry, blurring the lines between PR and advertising, by using evolving social media and information consumption habits as the connective tissue to driving great results.

We took it a step further, inventing our own software platform, FieldFacts, to track where vital conversations were occurring in social and conventional channels.  Armed with this information we were – and are – able to tell our clients where the half-dozen most influential conversations are occurring in their sector at a moment’s notice, and in what format and on which platform they are happening.  We combined that with the power of the integrated content model to deliver more cost-effective, measurable, targeted custom campaigns.

So just like that – daring to be bold – we reinvented an industry.  How do I know?  Because everyone is replicating the formula now. Sure, some have a greater scale.  Others might have more resources.  And some might even have some imitation of our FieldFacts platform.  But none have proven to be as nimble.  Nor have any been at the forefront of our industry as we have been for the past five years.  Rather, they are imitating our lead…a lead that helped us win some of the biggest and best brands in the world over that time.  I’ve seen some great press recently on how some holding companies are reinventing themselves into algorithmically driven models for team selection and customer delivery.  It is, at once, awesome and late to the game.  And while our competitors are focused on last year’s game, we’re moving on to define the next transformation in our industry.

Quite simply, if we don’t reinvent our industry dramatically each year over the course of the next five years, the bottom is going to fall out.  Advertising agencies are capturing what rightfully belongs to PR and integrated companies by leveraging their creative and the public’s lust for pictures and video to tell stories.  Second, major business segments like CPG are slashing budgets daily, challenging consulting companies to do more and more for less and less.  Take a look at the results across our industry this past year.  Giants are realizing that the days of double-digit growth are slipping away – likely permanently – if they don’t figure out the next move.  I don’t have to guess – their CEO’s are saying it, and for them, the move is to do what we did half a decade ago.

For Racepoint Global, the next move is to change the entire customer relationship paradigm.  We are transforming our business again, increasingly away from pure delivery to strategy and content generation.  We are basing our go-forward model on the most essential issues framing business and society today, and giving our clients a voice in those conversations.  Our first three issues out of the gate are: the responsibility of technology companies in a fake news/social deterioration era; the recapitalization of the economy by technology giants unconstrained by the economic norms that defined centuries of business; and the need to more rigorously examine the ethics of healthcare as consumers are asked to manage their own health and scientists launch products like the $100 genome and unconstrained access to opioids onto the market. We are aligning our business to these key issues and, more importantly, helping our clients to do the same, so that they can effectively capture conversations, hearts, and minds in a responsible and authentic fashion, which has been utterly lacking in previous decades of marketing.  Because today – with Millennials leading the way, responsibility, brand, market access, sales and government relations have morphed into a single essential imperative for business growth and survival.

We are fortifying this approach by hiring brilliant minds from outside of the communications sector to challenge our status quo.  We are recruiting strategy consultants, politicos, thinkers and young up and comers to push us to the extreme and make us think differently.  We’re going to our clients, hat in hand, and asking them to be part of formulating these essential topics affecting their businesses and our collective societies so that we can be honest and true with them and they can do the same with key opinion leaders, customers, investors and other constituents – and frankly, they are loving it.  I spent a week in January at CES and another in February at Mobile World Congress.  I bounced these ideas and themes off of some of the most powerful leaders in the technology industry and, without exception, they responded affirmatively and are already looking to Racepoint to provide them with the strategy and related communications frameworks so that they too can be leaders.

Which takes us back to the Five Year Imperative.  It really is quite simple.  We are wagering that over the next five years that if our industry doesn’t adapt to this issues-based, business-aligned approach to consulting, it will continue to stagnate.  It won’t only stagnate because budgets shrink – it will stagnate because talent will flee.  Five years from now, I’ll be looking back and writing about the success of this strategy and the next evolution, because I’m as much about vision as execution.  I hope the rest of the industry I’ve helped lead for more than two decades will be there with me.  Because if they aren’t, then it will be lonely.

Coming Next, Part 2: Retraining ourselves and our talent to think differently in a content-driven, issues-based era. 

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