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.

Hughes PR, Marketing, Public relations, Social media

Loud and clear: fundraising campaigns that work

Natalie Ciccocioppo writes…

From Oprah to Mark Zuckerberg, Jamie Oliver to David Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow to Mark Wahlberg, then extending to your neighbours, workmates and friends, about a month ago, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was literally everywhere.

Mainstream media and social media was awash (see what I did there) with people taking on the challenge – to dump a bucket of icy cold water over their heads and nominate their friends to do the same – raising awareness for a debilitating illness that had previously not garnered a lot of publicity or widespread public thought.

As a direct result of the Ice Bucket Challenge, more than $100 million has been raised for ALS or as we know it here in Australia, Motor Neurone Disease.

There’s little doubt the Ice Bucket Challenge has been an incredibly successful campaign. This article in The Age outlines some of the reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge cut through and went viral.

Health and cause-related fundraising isn’t new. For many years, various charities have been encouraging the community to take on a range of activities to support their fundraising efforts.

I remember taking part in the World Vision 40 Hour Famine – a popular fundraising initiative when I was in school. Going without food for 40 hours seemed like a real struggle at the time, but served as an important reminder to my 13-year-old self about children of the same age around the world living in poverty and dying as a result of malnutrition and hunger-related illnesses.

In those days, fundraising efforts involved pestering encouraging teachers, classmates, friends and family to sponsor you, and then running around and collecting money in an envelope, which you’d then exchange for a money voucher or cheque, and send off in the post to the designated charity.

Digital and social media has added a new dimension to the rise of cause-related marketing. A successful viral campaign like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge wouldn’t have been able to reach the sheer volume of users that it did prior to social media.

The advent of digital communications means that we can share updates with our Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, Twitter and Instagram followers, and invite them to pledge their support as we take on fundraising activities, and they can directly donate using their credit card online within seconds.

Movember, which raises funds and awareness of men’s health, is another example of cause-related fundraising done well. I lose count of the ‘mo’ updates I see on my Facebook News Feed every November! And it’s not always about asking for money – participants, or as Movember Australia calls them ‘Mo Bros’, are regularly posting photos of their moustache styling, opening themselves up for admiration (or sometimes ridicule) from their friends.

A simple fundraising idea, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or Movember, that invites people to take action for a cause, can result in a globally successful campaign.

The calendar year is full of fundraising initiatives. In October alone, there’s Girls Night In, Walktober, Frocktober, Octsober, Adelaide Stair Climb, and Buy Nothing New Month, which all invite people to ‘do something’ for a cause.

To cut through the noise, cause marketing ideas need to:

  • Ask participants to challenge themselves or do something fun and visual, to provide a story that they can share with their friends;
  • Relate back to the cause;
  • Have a strong social media engagement element;
  • Share compelling stories of those they support to encourage others to support the cause.

Here at Hughes PR, we are committed to supporting the community. We have several not-for-profit clients that we provide our professional services to on a discounted or ‘no fee’ basis.

We also take part in fundraising events where we can. Over the past few years, our team has helped out at McDonald’s restaurants for McHappy Day, taken part in the JDRF Spin for a Cure, Hutt Street Centre Walk a Mile in My Boots, Jeans for Genes Day, Vinnies CEO Sleepout, OCRF White Shirt Day and worn red to work for Red Nose Day.

Today we are taking part in Loud Shirt Day – proudly wearing our loudest clothing to work to raise funds for First Voice to help give the gift of sound and speech to deaf children.

Who do you think is wearing the best loud shirt? What fundraising initiatives do you take part in?

loud shirt day 2

Hughes PR, Marketing, Public relations, Social media

Take outs from Marketing Week 2014

Marketing Week was held in Adelaide this week – a week-long conference dedicated to marketing, advertising, public relations and social media. It was fantastic to hear from local and national speakers on a wide range of topics. Hughes PR is a sponsor of Marketing Week and we always enjoy our association with the event.

Here’s a few thoughts and take outs that our team had from sessions they attended:

Tim Hughes

  • When discussing the ‘Challenges of Issues Management in a 24 Hour News Cycle’, it reinforced to me that when you’re in the middle of managing an issue or crisis, social media is both a blessing and a curse. It allows you to communicate quickly and easily with a very broad audience – but it also requires close scrutiny and management to make sure speculation doesn’t outpace the facts.

Maddie Angel

  • I really enjoyed the session featuring Andre Eikmeir from Vinomofo. He talked about his experience starting a business, and I loved his point: know what the business stands for before taking it to market then go for it.

Alli Evans

  • Dr Phil Harris hosted a session on ‘Neuro Marketing’. He discussed how marketers are able to subconsciously sell to consumers through the use of music, colour and design; explaining the music that we listen to in-store can directly affect our purchasing attitude – fascinating!
  • An interesting analogy from the ‘Brand Journalism’ session regarding current content being produced in news media caught my attention: “News is becoming like a child wanting chocolate for dinner, just because the child wants chocolate doesn’t mean we should necessarily give it to them. Of course they want it, but is it what they need”.
  • A great point in the ‘Big ideas’ session; organisations need to encourage creative thinking, and never put down someone’s idea even if it doesn’t work – at least they were thinking of ideas. And ideas, right or wrong, create opportunities.

Natalie Ciccocioppo

  • I enjoyed Jeff Bullas’ insights in to building his profile and blog to where it is today – achieving over 4 million page views per year from 190 countries worldwide. We hear a lot about ‘content being king’ but one of my key take-outs from Jeff’s session was the importance of not only having good content but marketing it in the right way – ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t apply here.
  • I was inspired by the ‘Bringing Big, Brave, Game Changing Ideas to Life’ session and the questions that the panel members suggested considering when developing an idea: Why is this idea useful, what does it stand for, how will people engage with it, and what role will it bring to their lives? As a side, the energy of the panel and the way they bounced off each other was great.

Mark Williams

  • Darren Whitelaw from Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet pointed out the exponential growth in social media apps. In 2011 the US Patent Office recorded about 250 apps. In 2014 that figure has reached 4,383 social media apps.

Kate Potter

  • It was interesting to hear Jeff Bullas citing Coca-Cola’s content marketing approach, which was the 70/20/10 content plan: 70% of the content they create is “low-risk”, 20% of content “innovates off of what works” and the final 10% is “high risk” content.
  • Steve Brennen from eBay provided great insight into the future of e-commerce, in particular noting the rise in mobile. While here at Hughes PR we’ve all been taking note of mobile trends, it is fascinating to see how people’s use of mobile is impacting e-commerce marketing.
  • At the Marketing Week Community Manager Challenge, the panel of social media community managers were asked how they safeguard against risk. Julie Delaforce’s advice of considering all risks by categorising them as brand risks, user risks and legal risks was a great suggestion for community managers.

Kieran Hall

  • The ‘Brand Journalism and Native Advertising – the new PR?’ event provided some interesting insights from a panel of media experts about the future of paid content. While it’s opening up new revenue streams for media companies, brand journalism looms as a major challenge for editors who need to appropriately distinguish standard editorial from “commercial” content in terms of what stories are pursued, how they’re reported, and what prominence they’re given.


Hughes Public Relations, based in Adelaide, South Australia, is a communications and PR consultancy with proven and extensive experience in publicity and media relations, issues management, crisis management, digital media and social media strategy and implementation, community consultation, event management, media training, publications and strategic problem solving. Find out more.