The melting-pot was first invented by the British during the Industrial Revolution to create crucible steel, which hastened the emergence of an industrial society. Some 150 years later, the melting pot, this time as a metaphor for integration, once again plays an important role – to help drive the evolution of an information society. The boundaries between many media devices have become blurred as well: smartphones, TVs and PCs sync and melt together in myriad different guises. Nowadays, the information society is one great big melting-pot.
The communications industry and other areas of strategic consulting are likewise affected by the zeitgeist of the information society and its ability to dissolve disciplines and shape all into one (or perhaps rather shape ‘everything into everything’). Because when the foundation of an information society changes, that implies the communications industry has to change as well. Yesterday’s talk of integrated communications was one early chapter of that change. Now we are hearing talk about other boundaries on our playground being blurred. Borders between journalism and PR, advertising and PR, digital and analogue, are all coming to an end. These are all popular sayings; perhaps one might even call them clichés. But there is nonetheless an important point behind them.
The beginning of this change in boundaries or lack thereof is why most agencies have started calling themselves a “communications agency”, instead of the less fuzzy and more old-fashioned “advertising”, “PR” or “web” agencies. This appearance of channel-independence is currently more attitude than it is substance – most agencies actually still have a strong gravity towards the discipline they originate from.
And while all the disciplines in our communications industry have not completely melted together, this doesn’t mean they are not well on their way. The process has unquestionably progressed quite a bit already. Even if the communications industry hasn’t gone as far as it itself believes it has, I still assume it is in a major – very major – restructuring phase. There is no reason to doubt we will all follow the trajectory of the new media landscape, or even, in a broader sense, the new business landscape (since business models, as well as media, are digitalized). So what are the deep, long-term implications for agencies of all types in this major re-structuring?
First of all, the re-structuring involves a much broader scope than the areas of PR, advertising and web. These areas are increasingly dependent on other business areas. The transformation also involves R&D, sales, management consulting, human resources, law and so on. We are more frequently competing with each other today as all these areas become linked together in new ways.
One additional reason for the big communications meltingpot may be that communications consultants have now climbed on to the ladder. From dealing with clients’ mid-level figures with extended titles and specific working areas, to their high-level figures with shorter titles and more general roles.
A time ago, I believe many agencies had hyper-specialized, resulting in detrimental tunnel vision. And now we are seeing a retreat from that position; a trend bouncing back in the other direction, in search of a more sound equilibrium – a not-too-narrow, nor too broad area of specialization. And I believe that equilibrium exists where firms work on projects that are broad and deep.
For instance, I received an e-mail from the Swedish commercial law firm Setterwalls. They invited me to a seminar about behavioral targeting on websites. The content seemed to echo much of what I’d learned earlier from meeting with Obama’s web-agency BSD. I found it odd that a law firm held a seminar that a web-agency or even the social media unit at our PR firm could have held as well. But I guess, these days, it’s not.
After all, everything on the Internet today involves regulatory affairs. Whether creating a Facebook application, tracking visitors or sending newsletters, some general knowledge of the law is required.
Two years ago, Prime worked on a project with Audi
. We started with the most traditional of auto sales activities - test-driving - and put a twist on it by conducting the test-drives at night. This way we could showcase Audi’s leadership in car lights. It served both as a way of attracting potential customers to Audi’s point of sales as well as a catalyst for publicity through our innovative approach. PR or sales? It was bi-winning.
Although said before, you have to point out Apple, one of the most successful brands of our time. Who can tell what is R&D and what is branding over there? The two are united from day one of each product process.
Yet another melting-pot case-study is that of Electrolux - Vac From the Sea
. There are huge patches of plastic debris (some several times the size of the state of Texas) floating in the world’s oceans. Yet on land, stocks of recycled plastic are much too small to feed the production of sustainable appliances. Using debris harvested from the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the North Sea, Electrolux made a limited number of vacuum cleaners from plastic that was dived for and scooped up straight from the waves. The project has involved corporate spokespersons as the CEO and Heads of Sustainability Affairs as well as co-operation with NGO’s also devoted to saving the oceans. It has also put the product line of vacuum cleaners in the spotlight, and been featured in art exhibitions at museums. It has likewise generated worldwide publicity and spawned meetings with government representatives to discuss the plastic debris issue, and so on. How do we classify such a project? Is it corporate communications, marketing communications, lobbying, public affairs, or is it just art?
ITT Corporation’s website (www.ittwatermark.com
) is a CSR initiative partly aimed at the company’s own employees. To support pride and the sense of a common cause internally is a part of the human resources strategy and not just plain PR.
These are state-of-the-art examples of what the future has to offer. Those who best manage the 360-degree-front war and exploit the borderlands will have a competitive advantage, since it is exactly this which provides clients with their own competitive advantages. Marketing now requires the range and depth of these examples to be perceived as authentic.
Perhaps many agencies are afraid to start attacking the borders surrounding their core business. For isn’t there a risk of developing a range of services too wide to maintain good quality? Well, that’s a risk well-managed firms can transcend. We are living in a reality where all areas of strategy have become inevitably and intimately linked. And this reality should define our pursuits. Handling two or more used-to-be disciplines is not bi-polar. It’s bi-winning.
By: Simon Strand, former junior consultant at Prime
At June 10, Simon left Prime to work for Norwegian agency Trigger Oslo. Contact Simon at email@example.com or +47 900 69 574