I recently attended the annual conference of PROI Worldwide in Hong Kong. You will be forgiven for asking “what is PROI?” as the organization has deliberately been low-key about itself until now. As a member of Public Relations Organization International, W2O Group is part of the world’s largest partnership of independent integrated communications firms, founded in Europe in 1970.
Its 64 partner agencies have thousands of staff serving thousands of clients worldwide. Combined fee turnover in 2013 exceeded US$525m, positioning PROI Worldwide as one of the world’s largest communications networks, with more than 100 offices in more than 50 countries.
So, we are quite big, and we will get bigger as in 2014-15, PROI Worldwide plans to add an additional 25-30 agencies. As the global footprint grows, with lead independent agencies in new markets added all the time, so does the desire and the need to develop the brand identity of PROI, to make the partnership more relevant to clients. The need to ‘innovate or die’, to respond to the opportunities and challenges in the market, was an ever present conversation topic.
It was fascinating, inspiring and educating to talk with almost 100 business owners and leaders, representing a wide range of firms from large integrated agencies with more than 100 staff to small boutique agencies with just a handful of consultants. Common issues dominated, even though they are often experienced as unique to the market, region, size and focus of the respective business.
From a PROI perspective, it was all about how best to manage growth, creativity and strategy in PR and communications on six continents. The key trends, game changers and drivers for the industry discussed in panel and breakout sessions, over coffee, lunch or dinner included – to name but a few:
- fragmentation of media landscapes,
- proliferation of channels and platforms,
- exponential growth of available content, and thus data,
- how to get your message to your audience,
- the growing importance of content,
- advanced analytics models to make business sense of ‘Big Data’,
- brands becoming media outlets,
- talent acquisition and retention, as well as
- increasing procurement pressures, with clients demanding ‘more for less’.
I was invited to talk about W2O Group’s models and methods to leverage analytics to help our clients do better business, to help them communicate more effectively, and to drive our own successful growth in the process.
Judging by the fact that I was allowed to talk almost twice as long as scheduled (and that a coffee break was skipped in favor of an engaged Q&A session), this focus on data and analytics to guide better PR hit a nerve. Business leaders of PR and comms agencies around the globe recognize the need to make sense of the data avalanche.
Businesses gain and retain competitive advantage through big data analytics. Clients need guidance through the data jungle. This is best done through consistent models, robust methods of data acquisition, processing and reporting. It leads to relevant business advice based on strong insights.
At W2O Group, we’re finding that simple is best. With regard to online and digital communication, there are only a few things that really matter in any given context. Help your clients get them right, and you help them win:
- Five Fundamentals; any client of any size, anywhere in the world has to get these right:
- Listening – consistently track what’s out there; insights-driven publishing platforms help cut through the clutter
- Influencers – there are only 50 or so individuals that really matter; get to know them, the four or five individuals that they get their ideas from, and the four or five they directly influence; the total network might be complex, but zooming in makes things clearer
- Language – know the 15 ‘money words’ that optimize search; speak the ten languages that drive more than 80% of global online conversations
- Content – know people’s passion areas and the stories that matter to manage content curation
- Distribution – know the channels that matter, so resources can be allocated accordingly to manage these
- The 1-9-90 rule:
- the 90 are the ‘silent majority’; they listen, lurk and learn; they’re interested (and therefore they’re interesting), but they don’t contribute; provide them with a good experience and they might do more
- the 9 carry and amplify messages; they share and repackage and thus they influence
- the 1 are the opinion leaders, the true influencers; they create new content in their field of expertise; find them, engage them, get them to tell your story
From these basics, we build data-driven products and processes to help our clients do better business. We are curious, we like to listen to understand our clients’ challenges. And we like to try new things. We get our clients to try them with us – we call that the pragmatic disruption of the status quo. Because the status quo changes a lot faster now, than it used to.
Embracing constant change is an essential business skill. That doesn’t have to mean chaos. For us, it means rigorous, forensic number-crunching and being led by the numbers to gain better insights into human behavior. To understand what drives people, how decisions are being made, what resonates and what doesn’t. For all this data stuff isn’t quite as abstract as it seems. It comes from real people having real conversations, expressing real opinions online. The data helps us understand them better. It helps us calibrate the processes to get the right message to the right audience, through the right channel at the right time, to achieve optimal impact.
We are passionate about understanding people’s passions. And in PROI, we have many partners who share that passion. Our industry is now at an inflection point where data and analytics-driven approaches differentiate leaders. Together we will change the game and succeed.