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Pascal Beucler, MSLGROUP: Innovating in PR means also recruiting differently

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pascal beucler‘In times of transformation, we need to think big & smart. That’s what innovation in PR should be about. The difficulty is that not all clients are ready for change and that in fact some of them are change-averse’, told us Pascal Beucler, SVP & Chief Strategy Officer at MSLGROUP, in an interview with PR Romania on how innovation will take PR to the next level.

The interview explores the optimal blend of technology and human contribution needed to generate new and innovative ideas in the PR industry. Please take a few minutes to read his contribution - I think you’ll enjoy it. (Dana Oancea)

How do you define innovation in the PR industry?

I’d say that it covers various dimensions, amid which I see three main ones:

> Ideation & creativity

-    Insights enabled by data: Big ideas, when inspired by great insights and research, are far more powerful than déjà-vu copy-strategy angles. PR agencies therefore need to have access to the best data and insights, with best-in-class strategic planners on board to exploit them. This is where innovation lies today.
-    Developing apps is also a mandatory PR ability today, whether for bringing a powerful crowdfunding component to the campaign or exploiting the great resources of social gaming for instance.
-    Crowdsourcing content: having “People’s insights” in the strategic & creative ideas give “People’s inside” winning campaigns > insights, ideas and self-generated content: words, stories, pictures, videos, recipes and much more. It’s a people’s world, after all. Whether fans or just engaged folks, people are co-generating the story, spreading it widely through their networks. In fact, they are the story. A “People Inside” story, developed on social media, creates deeper emotional connections than anything else: firstly with many other people, and ultimately between people and corporations or brands. So, again, PR companies need to be good at this, which major clients consider a given, today.

> Integration of disciplines around digital & social

The use of social media is central, massive, dominant, cornerstone to most if not all great PR projects. It’s not about eventually cascading a big idea on social media, beyond classical ads or PR techniques. It’s about developing the big idea from, for and in social media.
Social media is ultimately the medium, but originally the amniotic liquid where the idea is born and raised:  the very source of the idea.
In other words, the ecosystem and the chronology are very different from what they used to be couple of years ago: now it’s the online source first, then the online flow and lastly the delta: once the magic has worked, mainstream media then pick up the baton and share the story further.
It is therefore critical to break silos and bring together disciplinary experts around a digital & social core team. Innovating will be difficult to achieve if PR agencies’ structures don’t evolve. The future doesn’t fit in the containers of the past…

> Hitting the sweet spot: Experiential & Social

Events and experiential PR are king these days. People need to “feel” and experience brands in real life (IRL) and share online before, during and after the event takes place.
The real and the virtual come along: the “physical” event comes first, bringing people together: people who are emotionally united by something, somewhere, now. What they see, what they hear, what they feel is immediately shared with the people around them, and with many more people around the globe.
In many ways, PR creates the conditions for a perfect balance between the power of a live experience here and now, and its social amplification.
This is rich content: the story you tell about something you just experienced “live” is a good and lively one, enriched by images, sounds…and one day scents. It’s a powerful snowball effect.
This is viral content: within minutes, it reaches hundreds and thousands of people.

PR agencies create innovative products for clients, but their modes of operation are standard and somehow outdated.  So what’s holding agencies back from innovative and risk-taking structural decisions?

In times of transformation, we need to think big & smart. That’s what Innovation in PR should be about.
The difficulty certainly is that not all clients are ready for change, and that in fact some of them are change-averse...
But where there is a will, there is a way, and we’ve seen recent examples of serious transformation which happened to be successful, new business wise, without creating troubles for existing clients (see Golin Harris’ G4 for instance).
At MSLGROUP, it happens that we’re very young – 5 years old – and we actually design our insights and data-driven, digital & social, experiential and content-centric model with a certain freedom of mind...

Usual titles like ‘Senior Account Manager’ and ‘Director’ are becoming less and less adequate at defining someone’s true job. How do you see the agency of the future regarding these roles?  

Horizontality, Collaboration & Diversity are the key words here.

-    Horizontality means that the „command & control“ sort of NATO-like organization is gone, for good. Our people need to work in client-centric multi-disciplinary teams, via an approach based on expertise sharing, not hierarchical relationships which, frankly, have no more common sense. Not always easy for more senior colleagues, but so obvious for GenY and Z...
-    Collaboration is the very condition of innovation and success, internally and externally. The digital & social revolution which accelerated transformation over the past 8-10 years is firstly based on the power of collective intelligence. Our agencies absolutely need to develop Collaborative Social Innovation in all sectors. It’s crucial.
-    Diversity is our biggest challenge as an industry, an issue which needs to be aggressively addressed and obviously a great opportunity, if we’re good at solving it. At the end of the day, beyond corporate governance and principles, which are both necessary and right, it’s just a question of efficiency: the more diverse the teams on a project, the more diverse the solutions offered to clients. Diversity is firstly about respecting the people and their natural differences, and therefore about enlarging perspectives and points of views.
So innovating here means recruiting differently: Attracting and retaining the talent of the future. Rethink the way we recruit our people. PR need brains, but brains coming from very diverse horizons, cultures, backgrounds. Look at the way Prime PR works in Sweden, mixing highly diverse talents into client-centric teams: it makes them one the of the best and more creative PR agencies in Europe, a great benchmark!

In which areas are you seeing the most concrete industry innovation?

Again, the battle will be won, or lost, on the data field. The pitches you win (or not) these days often are those where you can show your credibility in terms of strategic planning, research, insights & data analysis at large. Organizations that tap into Big Data are said to have better productivity rates and higher profitability than peers that don’t, by helping them discover hidden insights and enrich information for decision makers.
Much has also been written about the importance of brands embracing storytelling or, at the very least, becoming better at creating more dynamic audience-facing narratives. The goal of advanced content marketing is to enhance a brand’s ability to influence behaviour through sustained content creation. Investing in content marketing can yield critical big-data insights that will enhance marketers’ overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Do you think that the PR industry attract enough doers with entrepreneurial skills?

No, and it’s very unfortunate – particularly in times when many of the GenY Talents working in our agencies plan to create their own business, soon or late. We’re facing a serious generational and cultural shift here – another effect of the global disintermediation process, in some ways - and we don’t address it as we should. Incubation could be an option to explore, and the sooner the better.

The future is laden with more complex technology and big ideas. Are the agencies ready to take on the next big, unknown thing?

Yes indeed! PR is great at building relationships between organizations and their publics, in a collaborative and conversational way. But we should maybe rename it all, and call PR “People Relations”: isn’t our business about providing contents and managing relations between people and organizations, companies/employers, public bodies, brands – all of this in real time? To nurture these relationships and conversations, we need compelling content, an intimate understanding of people and communities, and a deep knowledge in terms of adequate contact strategies (rightly connecting content and audiences, to reach the expected conversion through the appropriate conversation. For this to happen, you need a serious capacity, data and insights wise. This is the currency of the information age, what we need to extract the value from.

Pascal Beucler si SVP & Chief Strategy Officer at MSLGROUP. Pascal joined MSLGROUP as SVP, Chief Strategy Officer in September 2009, helping to develop and implement the newly formed company’s global strategy, particularly in the fields of research & development, business strategy (practices, strategic tools, etc.), strategic planning, trends & market surveys, audience intelligence, evaluation of the skills an expertise of potential acquisitions and branding strategy.

Interview by Dana Oancea, PR Romania. Copyright PR Romania

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