Three years ago 3 Monkeys Zeno (3MZ) partnered with PR Moment to conduct some qualitative and quantitative research across our industry's in-house communities. Our aim? To gain some intel and insight into how they were adapting to the ever changing world of PR and Comms. What new demands were being made of them? How were they partnering with (or not) consultancies and agencies to support them? What new skills were they seeking or hiring against? Was their scope of work increasing or decreasing? How were they regarded internally - did they have a seat at the boardroom table or were they still perceived as the poor cousin of other marketing and comms disciplines?
The findings were significant enough for us to want to revisit this research last month. So, during June, we ran the same study across nearly 80 In-house PR professionals and conducted in-depth interviews with ten individuals. We presented and debated these findings at an event at One Alfred Place with an audience of over 50 comms and PR professionals from BT and Sky to PwC and Oracle. We had guest speakers – Howard Jones from EE, Simon Bristow from Adidas and Daisy Hawker-Wallace from Virgin Trains.
So what did we learn? It’s Liquorice All Sorts in the PR pick ‘n’ mix Whilst there are some shared common challenges and areas of focus - especially the need for more effective and inscrutable measurement, visual storytelling and engaging with non-media influencers including direct to customer comms - no one size clearly fits all. From one extreme - the Adidas model which Simon Bristow, Global Head of Comms talked us through, where all comms are handled in house via hub and spoke teams operating as an always on digital first newsroom; to the more traditional set up where newsroom functions are still outsourced to an agency partner - a trend that our research tells us is set to continue - there is clearly no one killer comms structure that is bullet proof.
Getting the balance right of deep internal intelligence and influence whilst retaining an objective and impartial eye over a business or brand's reputation remains our holy grail. This, for me, is why PR and comms consultancies and agencies will always have a legitimate and critical role and remit. I've had three in-house roles in my career and found that in a short space of time I couldn't see the reputational wood for the political trees; I became blinded or blind-sided, sucked into the corporate cogs and wheels, a good corporate citizen rather than the Jiminy Cricket my role required - the slightly removed, objective conscience of the company. This is something Howard Jones of EE made a particular point of when summarising the 3 things he believes in-house professionals must guard and honour – always advising the board to do the right thing, including putting ethics ahead of commercial gain.
It was clear though that crisis and issues comms is still one of the most valued strengths of all PR professionals. When the shit hits the fan, our reputation soars as we protect that of our stakeholders. In the age of social media and digital campfires, issues need managing on a daily basis. As a result, the role of both in-house and consultancy is gaining more and more traction in the boardroom and amongst our marketing colleagues. Quite frankly, if we can’t grasp this needling nettle now, when will we? Most CEOs are acutely aware of the collateral and share price sensitive damage that can be caused by poor comms responses during challenging times, as well as the cost of disintegrated comms. So for us it has to be carpe diem. Including asserting ourselves in the ATL creative process to shine our PR policeman’s light on storyboards before they go into production. But how many times have we been told we must be a critical partner in a tribe with the “creative”, ad and media buying agencies only to be told, we must not hold the creative spear, just pick up any road kill? And that the experts in broadcasting messages – the “space invaders” are best placed to land grab our “space sharing” digital and social territories i.e. owned and earned channels.
Let’s see what the next three years bring. I’m sure it will, as ever, be a patchwork of best practice and earnest endeavour from an industry which always has and always will continue to fight the good fight.
Read the full report here - Future proofing in-house PR teams