Hughes PR, Public relations

Future focus

As Hughes’ 25th year of operation draws to a close and we begin the journey through the next 25, let me leave you with a few things to think about.  What are the trends to watch over the next five years?

We must think mobile. Australian financial commentator Robert Gottliebsen wrote a piece in the Business Spectator last year in which he said the following:  Facebook can now tell global advertisers that they have one billion active users (1.5 billion on a monthly basis), the vast majority of which are via mobiles.  And the Facebook mobile audience is rising at an annual rate of around 20 per cent.  Ignore at your peril!

We need to deliver our content to suit.

We had our first experience with Virtual Reality in promoting a client’s adoption of the technology last year.  Now, its mainstream – with Australian retailers champing at the bit to sell the devices.  Are they going to make conventional on-line video passé?  Probably not immediately, but it sure is going to be flavour of the month with the tech-savvy, and popular with all soon after.  Again, we need to deliver our content to suit.

And the big one – Big Data.

Who owns data collection, interpretation and delivery?  Not me for sure – I need help to check my lottery tickets. Nor do I think many PR players in Australia will be able to afford the expertise in-house – but I may be wrong!

Three years ago, a conference called Communication on Top in Davos, Switzerland heard a prediction from a web analytics expert by the name of Marshall Sponder that within a few years (ie now) every PR agency that wanted to be taken seriously would have a chief data officer, playing a significant role in the leadership of the organisation.  Its on its way.

Big Data is certainly not a toy – it’s a tool.  But to extend the analogy, it’s more like a big mining truck than a hammer or screwdriver and to that end will need a special operator – probably outside our industry.

So – a whole bunch of toys and tools – and who knows what else is on the way.  But what makes them valuable?


And who’s going to be increasingly responsible for developing and delivering the strategy.  The PR industry. That’s the big change.

I believe our industry’s influence will grow.

Our core role won’t change but it will expand (and PR will take a bigger slice of the marketing pie).

Having said that, the marketing pie itself may increase given the vast volume of information readily to hand and the increased challenge of standing out.

The tools we use will change – as will the way in which we use them.

The core services we deliver will continue – but grow with our ability to demonstrate the benefits of PR as the ‘custodian of reputation’.

Our accountability must improve.

To end – and in recognition of the PR power of third party endorsement – I’d like to quote Bill Gates:

“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.”

And, from my point of view, I’d be pleased to invest it for him.

Hughes PR, Public relations

Delivering the future

Over the 25 years since establishing Hughes, I have considered many times how we can use our skills best to help our clients achieve their best.

So, what services should we be delivering into the future?

My view is that the PR industry will be delivering the services its delivering now – but that it will have greater control over the strategy that drives them and the way in which they’re integrated with an organisation’s brand building and reputation protection strategy.

As the trusted ‘independent’ partner in communication and reputation, I believe it will increasingly be the PR industry’s job to review and revise the effectiveness of organisational communication channels.  We’ll be responsible for the audits that ensure the current comms are working and that more effective channels shouldn’t replace them.

We’ll still be driving brand awareness through publicity (or story telling or brand journalism, as some would prefer to term it). The means of doing so will change – but not the art!

We will further strengthen our ownership of reputation management – and this will test our profession more than it ever has as we act to counter the speed and range of trajectories at which bad news travels through social media or to embrace that speed to our clients’ advantage.

Our story telling and writing skills will see PR professionals continue to play a key role in publications – mainly on-line – including prospectuses, annual reports, EDMs, websites and submissions.

I also see us sharing our knowledge through training.  When we put clients in front of the media, we need to make sure they’re trained. We’ve done it for years to great effect. Our view of social media is similar.  Once we’ve developed a social media strategy aligned with a client’s broader reputational and business objectives, it should be managed as much as possible by the client to ensure its authenticity.  We therefore need to be giving clients the skills to do so.

Our influence will extend even further into the areas of employee relations (working with HR professionals); community relations; and investor relations (as we get more involved in building brand value through strategies focused on the business bottom line).

And, we’ll be increasingly integrating the tools required to deliver these expanded services quickly and cost effectively.

Social media management and engagement will be a key delivery mechanism.

Graphic design will play a key role in visual presentation across digital media – and we see our delivery of this service continuing to grow.

But video, I see as having a truly exciting place in the PR crystal ball.

Just to provide some context:

  • Global IT company Cisco predicts 69% of total internet traffic will be video by 2018;
  • Global ecommerce business, Groupon expects 79% of web browsers to watch on-line video every day in 2018.
  • YouTube projects that revenue from on-line video advertising will jump from US$7.7 billion last year to US$12.82 billion in 2018.

Dr. James McQuivey – a consultant to NASDAQ listed Forrester Research in the US undertook a study called “How Video Will Take Over the World” in which he claims that “Video is worth 1.8 million words.” It’s based on the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,”; the fact that video shoots 30 frames per second and therefore, every second of video is worth 30,000 words. Multiply 30,000 by 60 seconds – a common length for an explainer video – and you get 1.8 million.

A stretch maybe but, as we say in the trade – don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Hughes PR, Public relations

People in PR – back to the future

Over the 25 years I’ve enjoyed since establishing Hughes, many people have asked the secret to survival (and success)?  It’s the people.

Against that background, who do we need in our profession in the future?  In part, it may be a matter of going back to the future.

Someone came to me for career advice recently and they asked the question:  “Do you still hire journalists?”

Interesting question.  Twenty-five years ago, that’s all we hired!  Ten years ago, hardly any – instead we were looking for subject matter experts or “industry professionals.”

My answer last week was a bit more circumspect.  I said that I expected there would always be a place for people with a background in the media.

Why? Because part of our role will be to tell stories.  And who better to assist in that process than story tellers?

But beyond that, journalists have the ability to cut to the chase, get to the heart of a yarn, cut through the crap and find the angle – good or bad.  And the latter skill is as important, if not more important, than the former.

Being able to proactively identify issues; honestly appraise reputational risks; fearlessly advise on addressing those risks and effectively assist in neutralising or managing them to the benefit of an organisation is as important to the end game as promoting the positives.  Otherwise, it’s a matter of two steps forward and at least one step back in the increasingly important “trust race”.

Journalists are also used to working to a deadline – as is the PR industry.  We know there is no news in old news and that – thanks to social media – no news can become global news in seconds. And our profession knows what that can mean in terms of reputational risk or opportunity.

Increasingly, every organisation will require speedy and effective communication protocols and delivery channels to manage their reputations or protect their brands – and PR provides the best resource for doing this.

Just as a matter of interest, there are now more journalists in Australia on so-called the dark side (ie in PR) than there are on the bright side of mainstream journalism.

Having made that point, however, our industry very much also needs to offer a mix of skills.

From a communication generation and delivery perspective – to ensure accuracy, context, strategic perspective, and most of all results, whether it’s in media, social communities, or legislation.

We need people who understand strategy as well as those who can learn it while delivering it.  PR teams made up just of old blokes like me will go backwards but equally, those digital natives who rely on enthusiasm and technology alone are similarly destined for a short stay.

Why? Because as I have said before, unless digital and social platforms are utilised strategically to meet organisational goals, they remain toys – not tools.

Hughes PR, Public relations

A glimpse of the PR consultancy of the future

I’ve previously asserted that public relations is on its way to becoming the most dominant and influential component of the marketing mix.

So who’s going to be charged with delivering these lofty goals?

If we were setting up an agency or in-house comms team to meet the needs of the 21st century (or even the next five years) what would it look like?

Would we be limiting ourselves to one geographic market?

Would we specialise in an industry with universal needs around the globe?

Would we have an office with a bunch of staff in it – or would we be networked to the best (or cheapest) talent the world has to offer, perhaps calling them in on a job by job basis or working as colleagues for years without ever meeting them.

As “instant” becomes the norm, will we be providing a 24/7 service with team members around the world following the sun?

Probably a combination of all of the above.

If we have specialist industry knowledge of universal value, why would we limit ourselves to servicing the needs of our city, state or country?

If we want to be “world’s best” would we source our pool of expertise from the ‘puddle’ in our backyard?  Of course, not.  Rather, we would seek to employ the skills of the best people in the business wherever they are in the world which – thanks to information technology – we can.

If we’re looking to provide value for money solutions to our clients, should we be sourcing cost-effective talent from low labour cost markets?  Probably – if only for commercial reasons.

As with most service industry workplaces, our industry will increasingly focus on productivity and results rather than time in the office.

Technology has allowed this for some time and work practices are catching up. Globalisation also makes it less important where consultants are working from, with big agencies already providing 24/7 support by passing tasks from office to office according to time zones.

Smaller consultancies are already drawing on freelance expertise from anywhere around the world – but mostly low labour cost markets – to deliver websites, manage social media, create graphic design, or even edit video.

While it’s not something I advocate because I’d like to see our State’s creative industries sector grow, it also provides an opportunity for Australian marketing organisations to sell their services to offshore agencies, too.

On that basis, perhaps the agency of 2020 will look more like a project management firm.

Ultimately, our business is about trust – and trust is best earned face to face.

Strategy requires local knowledge, and influence requires networking – and in a market like ours that can’t be provided off shore.

Hughes PR, Public relations

PR’s time in the sun is coming

I’ve been doing this for 30 years – 25 years as the head of Hughes.

As we celebrate our consultancy’s first quarter century, I have never been so optimistic about the future of public relations.

In my view, the PR profession’s dominance in the marketing mix is ours to lose.

The re-shaped PR industry has the potential to ‘own’ strategic communication and reputation – and that means having significant influence over the work of advertising agencies, marketing agencies and digital agencies – possibly including taking some of their work from them.

Why do I think this?

Our profession is trained to get to the point.

We are fleet of foot – that’s the nature of news and the nature of issues and crises.

We’re story tellers.

We’re about more than marketing and play a key role in brand building.  We know how to build and protect reputations.

As we say at Hughes – We have the power to influence action and opinion. Others say it in other ways but as an industry we all have the ability to do it – I believe better than any other component of the marketing mix.

Not that we’re the be-all and end-all of marketing – yet!  It’s just that we’re going to play an ever-increasing role.

So, what do I think are the keys to our profession realising its potential?

Global industry positioning. We must earn the right to own responsibility for organisational reputation.

The PR profession is a lot like the proverbial doctor’s child – we overlook the health and well-being of our own.

We need to be using our skills to promote our skills – and, unlike the cobbler allowing his children the worst shoes in school, we need to work harder to promote our expertise!  Many of our new clients don’t know much about PR and less about the power of PR – and I think it would be safe to say that the organisations our industry would like as clients don’t even know what value we can deliver for them.

That brings me to the hoary chestnut of our industry – measuring valueYou don’t value what you don’t measure – and we haven’t been good as a profession at measuring the benefits we provide to the organisations we work with.

No other part of a business gets away with being so unaccountable!

As David Rockland – a Partner and CEO of Ketchum Global Research & Analytics – said so eloquently:

“If we want a seat at the grown-ups table, we have to earn it via metrics.”


Perhaps my thinking is influenced by growing up without the internet but I have one very strong belief – that all the technology and all the social media platforms in the world are just toys – not tools, unless you can measure the significant positive contribution they make to business bottom lines – financial, social and environmental.

If we draw the line under anything over the next five years, it should be the measurement and therefore ‘proof of value’ of the things we do.  What do they contribute to the business goals of our clients or the organisations or communities for whom we work?

It goes back to our need to measure; to prove our value as practitioners; the value of the tools we recommend; and the value our profession provides to those who employ us.

The PR industry is not the only component of the marketing mix facing this challenge – but if we’re going to lead (particularly in social and digital media), we have to be able to prove our worth.

And I do believe PR will own the content component of digital marketing.

It’s an extension of our news heritage, our story telling ability and our innate “bullshit detector” which protects against the “sales pitch” which is such a turn-off to social media communities.

You might laugh at my reference to PR professionals having a bullshit detector, given our long held reputation for polishing turds or rolling them in glitter!  But I stand by it.  In fact, it’s probably one of the greatest skills we bring to the marketing table.

Unless we understand and communicate risks to our employers or clients, we are failing in our role as reputation or brand managers.  And I don’t see any other component of the marketing mix that has the in-built and virtually immediate ability to do that – a very real advantage in the fast paced and unforgiving social media environment.

This requires “environmental awareness.” And, by that I don’t mean tree hugging, but rather a true understanding of the forces impacting the organisations we’re working for.

What are the dynamics of their market place; within what legal and social framework do they operate; what drives their value for shareholders; or shapes the behaviour of their customers; what opportunities do these factors present and what are the risks or “rocks on the road” to our clients’ success.

Hughes PR, Public relations, Social media

Why and how is the marketing mix changing?

This year, Hughes is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

In the past five years particularly, we’ve seen the marketing communications rule book torn into pieces and thrown up in the air.  It’s still landing – and probably won’t ever settle in one place again thanks to the fierce winds of change!

Advertising agencies have had to completely re-examine and re-calibrate their role in brand building; digital and design agencies have sprung up and then many have disappeared; marketers have had to increasingly rely on their wits in the absence of clear delineation between the once well-defined marketing disciplines – and public relations consultancies have either taken a leap of faith into the digital space – or they’ve kept doing the same thing to their own and their clients’ detriment.

I say that not as a criticism but as a fact.  A quarter of our income today comes from services we didn’t offer five years ago – all of which are digital media related. Video production, social media strategy and delivery, and graphic design – ie, content.

In South Australia, the PR profession has generally adapted well.  We’re a tight market, we watch each other, we don’t dive in just because ‘it’s the latest thing’ and when we do move it’s generally in a considered and sustainable way.

PR consultancies in South Australia are relatively small and independent.  That means they’re agile and accountable in a very transparent environment.  And our market is often rightly described as “hard but fair”.

The changes present a threat to those who don’t embrace them – but a huge opportunity for our industry to meet the reputational needs of clients and lead the communication needs of all organisations ahead of advertising agencies and digital agencies.

The lines have blurred between advertising agencies and PR consultancies.  There is still a strong need for us to work together – but who does what is increasingly up for grabs and in my view, PR professionals will increasingly lead strategy and content, with advertising agencies taking responsibility for creativity and production.

As Rise to the Top marketing blogger, David Siteman wrote recently:

It used to be that things were neatly divided into pretty categories:

An advertising agency created ads (and if they did media placement, they placed the ads).

A marketing agency could do a variety of things depending on their specialty ranging from brand identity (design, slogans, etc.), perhaps creating your website, some paid advertising (overlaps a bit with an advertising firm), maybe helped with events and other ways to get the word out (such as SEO or more traditional direct mail).

A public relations agency focused on media attention. This used to be limited to pitching traditional media for articles, placement, etc. Some firms helped you put on events.

And then the social and creative web started to become mainstream and the game has completely changed.

Things are smarter, faster, cheaper …   the happy divide between marketing, advertising and public relations has crumbled.

Now there are amazing do-it-yourself tools that entrepreneurs, big brands and all clients can use if they so choose.  Many companies (big and small) can handle all their marketing, public relations and advertising themselves (this wasn’t true even just ten years ago).

However, Mr Siteman says …”there will always be a market for those that need some help. They just might not need help from a bloated agency using old-school tactics.”

His words, not mine.

Hughes PR, Public relations, Social media

25 years of Hughes

Tim Hughes writes…

I’ve been doing this for 30 years – 25 years as the head of Hughes, which I established in the store cupboard of a friend’s business in 1992.

In the past five years I’ve seen more change than in the prior 25.

When I started in print journalism, typewriters were common – although they were fast giving way to clunky computers.

When I worked in television, there was always a rush to get things shot as early as possible in the day so that the film could be sent to the processors, then cut, then printed and then aired – a far cry from Snapchat or Instagram.

I saw teletext machines give way to fax machines; fax machines do away with couriers; and the internet and email replace fax machines.  But these were just tools for doing business with our clients more efficiently – not necessarily impacting on our work for clients up until the past decade.

In Australia – and particularly South Australia – we were probably sheltered from change for some time.

Trends have been changing at a much faster rate beyond our borders and shores.  I don’t believe we’ll be as sheltered from change in the five years to 2021.  The rise and rise of digital and social media has seen to that.

And the pace of change will be even greater in the next five years than it has been in the past five years.  For example, the amount of information on the web is expected to increase by 400 per cent in the next four years (Michael Schaeffer, The Content Code).

From my perspective, the past five years have seen the greatest changes to the so-called PR business – and the greatest challenges and opportunities.

Just to give you a bit of background on our consultancy:

We are one of the largest consultancies in SA.

We work for a broad range of clients – largely in the corporate space – and in almost every case, we work at the highest level of that organisation and then deliver down.

If we have a point of difference in the marketplace it is our commitment to being strategic and aligning our work in a measurable way to the business goals of all our clients.

Our clients include Adelaide Airport, Adelaide Convention Centre, BankSA, Calvary Health Care, Flinders Fertility, ENGIE, major property developers and a number of organisations in the defence sector.

Our experience mirrors the experience of the wider PR profession – at least in Australia.

Over time, our consultancy has changed and in recent times, it’s changed even more quickly.

We started as opportunistic publicists, we developed a reputation for managing reputation through our work on issues and crises communication, we became more conscious of the importance of being strategic in delivering outcomes aligned to our clients’ business goals.

Our expertise was harnessed to assist internal communications.

Our interest in “brands” in the broader sense, helped us bring internal and external behaviours and communications together. Because of our experience and network, we became “influencers” and “advocates”.

We responded to changes in the communication environment by embracing social and digital media – and including it in our programs in a strategic manner.  We were one of the first in Adelaide to appoint a consultant dedicated to social media work.

Recognising the influence of video, we established a Digital Video Production capability to deliver web and blog content and electronic news releases to both new and traditional media under-resourced to meet the demands of their audience.

We then expanded our skill set with a graphic design team to support our work in social, digital and video media.  These services now account for 25% of turnover – and they’re growing.

So, you can see how our industry is changing – and the pace is only going to pick up.  It’s going to impact on the whole of the marketing communication sector.  But we believe PR has the most to gain.