Last Thursday, I listened to a panel discussion as part of a Communications Week, founded by Kite Hill PR’s Tiffany Guarnaccia. The live conversation called “Beyond Storytelling,” was hosted at the Art Directors Club in Midtown.
In the communications industry, the following mantra has been spreading like wildfire, “content is king.” The panel conveyed that the power of original storytelling in the agency world has grown. Patrick Coffee, of PRNewser, moderated the panel discussion with four panelists: Brendan Murphy, Senior Partner of Design at Lippincott; Shoshana Winter, Executive Planning Director of Digital Integration, McGarryBowen; Tyler Gray, Editorial Director of the Creative Newsroom, Edelman; and Andrew Fingerman, Media Director at MRY.
One of the first questions Patrick asked the panel was “Why is content so important?” The entire panel agreed that storytelling, in the communication industry, should upkeep a continuous narrative between agencies’ clients and the clients’ customers. In the past, agencies saw a large discrepancy between what the marketers of a brand wanted to say and what the recipient of a brand wanted to hear. In other words, when experts in the industry talk about telling a story, it is really the story about a brand.
Tyler, who also happens to be a formal journalist, emphasized that we professionals must “join more conversations than you start.” He continues, “When you help grow that (another person’s) story, you help make it shareable. Everything you make is like bringing that bottle of wine to the dinner. Join the conversation, then you might be in that position to veer it as it continues.”
Continuity seems to be a large theme in communications. On a more general level, it seems also to be a theme when students who are coming out of their degree and try to get a job. However, all of us busy professionals and students know, continuing the conversation at a consistent pace sometimes becomes a challenge when your life is so busy. How does one come back into a conversation after a period, a few days, a week, a month, two months, a year, or a few years, of non-communication? Coincidentally enough, I found my answer in something Shoshana expressed:
“The dynamic of promoting a brand at McGarryBowen is that the brand has to be big enough to be sure that the story can be told. From an organizing perspective, all the pieces have to work together. At the end of the day, the greatest challenge is coming up with the most compelling detail that will keep someone interested.”
Let’s say you have a brand, whether it is a product, service, company or a person, which is big enough to have a story told. Is it better to tell a story through earned media or paid media? Patrick asks the panel about the “earned-paid media equation.”
Traditionally, public relations focused on “earned media.” I had learned this fact while I was pursuing my professional certification in PR at NYU in 2011. Recently, I spoke with a former Fleishman-Hilliard employee, who says public relations agencies are moving towards more traditional advertising practices, like managing paid media, digital marketing tactics, and content for their clients. Perhaps agencies today might still focus on earned media somewhere but paid media has become equally important.
Returning to the panel, Tyler was first to answer Jonathan’s question. “For paid media, you must look at where the opportunity is for client-to-client. It is about setting goals and measuring the results.”
Andrew said, “It is [about] what the clients and the marketers want to achieve when they put their brand out to the world. We want to get to the point of how to amplify that. How do different channels interact with each other and what are the metrics, impressions, clicks?”
Shoshana chimed in, “The problem with earned media is that companies look to make money. The amount of data these platforms have about who we are, this is so important for paid media. Paid media can help marketers get the message, service or product out to the people who really care.”
“Getting people to talk about your brand is [also] a part of storytelling,” inserted Andrew. “Any consumer can receive a story, but the agency needs an anticipation plan – planning for the potential outcome. Each story must stay true to its original idea, the one that got them there.”
Based on what I learn in digital marketing as part of my Masters in Marketing at Baruch College, I know just how well paid media can get the message out to the right customers. Even if there is potential waste, the client would still benefit from an impression, a click, or an action, like purchasing the product, subscribing to a newsletter or following a blog. In addition, content development for paid media might involve composing an SEM ad or a banner, or that email which promotes a newsletter, product or service.
Reflecting on the relevance of Shoshana and Andrew’s answers, I then felt excited for Patrick’s next question - “On an emotional level, there is a question of ownership. Who owns their creative content? It is even more difficult when something (i.e. copy) goes through several different levels of change and development.”
Tyler candidly responded, “When you build a digital program, you have to continue and expand that. Sometimes, it’s nerve-racking to take something you created and have someone else turn that into something of their own.”
Andrew added, “We all work to [reach] a greater good. If that original content belongs to a marketer and agency of a business owner, it has to stay true to that brand.”
Andrew means the content may belong to a marketer or an agency, but it must reflect the brand their client is trying to create and disperse to the world. I have been on the agency side that created the content, and I have been on the in-house side. When I worked with content management in-house – I was the website editor and social media manager for an ethnic newspaper in NYC – it was very clear to me that all content I created, edited, and published belonged to the publisher. While I worked as a content manager – then a digital marketing associate – for a start-up agency; I had qualms about whether my content belonged to the agency which employed me, or the client who chose to work with that agency.
While a change in client-to-customer communications changed over the years, I will admit that marketers have questions that perhaps Communications Week cannot answer. For example, there is still the issue of collecting accurate data to understand better which customer would benefit most from their brand and which one cares the most to return consistently. Luckily, during the mingling hour that followed the panel, I had met a few professionals who work at agencies specifically focused around collecting customer data for their clients, both quantitative and qualitative.
Many believe people more involved with the marketing and business-side of a brand should worry only about numbers and making insights. However; communications are a large part of the marketing project – getting that product, service or message out to the people who need it most. As consumers’ needs evolve and companies compete with one another to meet their needs, communications deserve more attention than ever, because there are so many ways to tell a story about a brand to anybody. Yet the channel of the delivery for the message, the detail of “why care?” and call-to-action in the message, and the customer experience all matter.
Blog Post by Patricia Trutescu, Executive Committee Member