Splendid was founded in 2004 and, if I’m not guilty of looking back with rose-tinted specs, or with faded memory, things seemed to be much calmer then. Tony Blair was still PM and the wheels were yet to fall fully off the New Labour luvvy train. The world’s turmoil seemed to exist in a distant desert storm. Amy Winehouse dropped her first album and those of us in the music biz were hip to a thing called MySpace. TheFacebook was registered that year but no-one outside of the inner circle had a clue what it was to become. I doubt the inner circle even really knew.
Flash forward to 2019 and Britain is fatigued from fighting politicians, with a deadline now scientifically set for the end of the world as we know it and social media literally ruling our lives. I’m just happy that, like Sir Elton, Splendid is still standing, thriving even, but then I rarely look back: you’re only as good as your last gig and the second it’s over I’m already planning the next one. Looking ahead here are three things that are on my mind…challenges that we at Splendid will be considering and that we think are probably industry-wide.
Helping brands to live in a realer real world
2019 was the year our world got woke. Thanks to Greta Thunberg and Xtinction Rebellion, most are now aware that this old planet of ours might be under threat. With bigger issues afoot than competition within our client’s categories, we must help them set their sales messages within the context of a wider world of uncertainty. We applaud the best brand purpose advertising, abhor the worst, but believe PR agencies should be playing a more active role here. Most of our clients have been doing outstanding CSR work for years but there’s a very British thing about not shouting about charity work. The reality is that people want brands to have a cause, a point of view, so the mission for PR too is to join the dots between corporate and consumer and find ways to show that brands often do have a benevolent heart. More specifically, as the people with our finger on the pulse of public opinion, we’ve got to make our own business practices more sustainable…journalists are already refusing plastic-packed product mailers and rightly so.
Safeguarding space for creativity
That said, it’s very clear that most clients face tougher economic environments now. Budgets are under pressure, headcounts are down, while ‘always on social media’ has upped the pace for everybody. This has impacted creative work in several ways – it’s just not as easy to get creative work signed off today, we’re often left until ‘drop dead deadlines’ have passed to get the green light. And how many ’48-hour briefs’ have we had this year? As we move to a new Shoreditch home in 2020 we’re thinking very hard about how we can collaborate with clients to protect precious space for the creativity they crave, from the way we lay out the office to how we organise our teams. We don’t have all the answers yet but watch this space.
PR that lasts longer
There seems to be continued, even growing, desire on the part of clients and agencies to stage all kinds of stunts to get a brand name or message into the media by any means necessary. And it seems there is still the media appetite for innovative services, or for photographs of people doing funny stuff in surprising places or, the perennial favourite, floating something big down the Thames. The appeal is obvious: that rush of adrenaline when you’ve landed blanket media coverage, seeing your peers give you props on social media, the awards. My concern is whether this short term fix comes at the expense of long term, strategic campaigning. These tactical bursts are brilliant for delivering clients an immediate return on investment, underlining the unique value that PR can provide and the buzz when mum and mates talk about your work. But at Splendid we say public relations means relating to the public (duh!) and I think these tactics are best when held together by a long term communications platform, with coherent and repeated messaging. Put another way, my experience is that you need to repeat your message consistently over time for it to be fully understood. After all, everyone is busy and distracted by other stuff.