The Public Engagement-based, Marketing & Communications Company of the Future will have several incumbent demands placed upon it. Its process will have to be rigorous and clear; its content will have to be relevant and appropriate; its consultancy will have to be insightful and strategic; its execution will have to be transparent and truthful; and it will have to look beyond client companies and brands to the real people out there – to listen directly to the Citizenship and address their needs in a responsible fashion. But the harsh truth is that this model still exists in theory and not yet in practice. How do we get there?
There needs to be a radical rethink and rearticulation of where Communications and marketing stands within today’s world.
We believe that there needs to be a radical re-think and re-articulation of where Communications and marketing stands within today’s world. What role can and should they play within a society that increasingly demands sustainable, if not lower consumption? What is the appropriate advice that it should be giving to clients – to sell more and to further feed Consumerism, or to help people tune out of “wants” and into “needs” and work more responsibly within a re-born Citizen agenda? Where is the good purpose in all of this? How can Communications and marketing properly join Citizens and Government, Analysts and Consumers, Media and Business? What does Responsible Public Engagement actually look like? How does marketing balance the conscience of the Global North with the economic needs of the Global South? These are big issues to tackle, for sure – but to avoid or ignore them while speaking of Public Engagement would be tantamount to little more than a well-spun re-brand. If Communications, generally, and marketing, specifically, wants to be taken seriously at a strategy and policy level, then it has to be ready to deal in important strategy and policy issues. It, like many other industries, will need to re-examine its Purpose.
Companies do not need to set themselves at the mercy of the masses, but they do need to legitimise their thinking via an appreciation of the Citizens whom they serve.
Our new democracy demands a new honesty across the board. In an age of Public Engagement, all Communications companies will need to be prepared to catalyse and participate in the debate, rather than offer finite solutions. Within the Citizen Renaissance, they will need to actively canvas the opinions and wisdom of the crowd – understanding the end-game of the many and not just the vested interests of the few. If the old, opinion-forming elites are no longer in control, this new honesty may well represent a fearful step for many. Questions need to be asked and asked again. People do not always like the answers on offer. This will demand a fresh approach to consideration before action; a greater ability to listen and to absorb. Companies do not need to set themselves at the mercy of the masses, but they do need to legitimise their thinking via an appreciation of the Citizens whom they serve.
Marketing & Communications firms can ill-afford to create a schism between this generation of leaders and thinkers, and the next.
For those who lead Marketing & Communications firms, they can ill-afford to create a schism between this generation of leaders and thinkers, and the next. They can only safeguard this radicalisation of Marketing & Communications into the new trust of Public Engagement, if they cascade the thinking throughout their companies and among their people. This of course calls for a root-and-branch re-appraisal of almost every tenet on which the “traditional” marketing has been based. Just as people are learning to re-think the approach to media in the Digital age, so they now need to re-formulate to deal with the consequences of a Citizen Renaissance. Marketing can no longer sell just for the sake of selling – either to clients or to Consumers; Marketing can no longer spin or play fast-and-loose with the facts; Marketing needs to gradually unravel the shallow, celebrity-led campaigns of recent years, replacing them instead with more thoughtful and more sustainable approaches. Public Engagement demands a new responsibility. And today’s Marketing leadership needs to carry its recent recruits.
As we examine in more detail in Chapter Ten, the shift to a Wellbeing Economy will have radical implications for commerce. Business leaders will face challenges of their own on the Communications front. In today’s world, pre-existing separations between those who historically “spoke” to Governments, NGOs and Stakeholders and those who flogged brands or product are now redundant. Conversations held in isolation run the risk of damaging any company’s license to operate or prejudicing work with Governments, Partners, Analysts, Investors and NGOs. Long before a customer reaches the checkout, he or she will now most likely have a very definite opinion about both the company and the brand – especially in the ‘hot’ issue areas and industries.
All this would, of course, imply that, with the corporate world, the traditional roles of External Affairs (EA) and Brand Communications be merged. If only it were so easy. Here are two very different skill sets and two groups of people who – while still united within both the context of the Sphere of Public Engagement and the demands of company and brand – have very different functions to deliver. It would be a bit like comparing heating engineers and aeronautical engineers – or pharmaceutical Chemists and diagnostic Chemists. Titles can be woefully misleading.
Companies will need to examine how to profit and retain a license to operate by delivering to societal Needs not Wants.
Brand people will still need to help deliver to the bottom line (it’s what businesses are in business to do, after all). But as companies will need to examine how to profit and retain a license to operate by delivering to societal Needs not Wants, so Brands will need to tune into and indeed help drive such shifts in thinking. External Affairs people need to set the framework and help navigate the complexities of the Stakeholder and Regulatory landscape. While working on the same side, each group needs to provide checks and balances on the other. There needs to be a healthy tension. At an extreme level, EA people could stop Retail people doing anything; on the flip side, Brand guys could dream up an initiative that could seriously compromise the company’s position with Regulators and NGOs. In reality, EA people (with the support of experts and the provision of deep content) must now help build the collective framework within which everyone can work – the framework which maintains and refreshes the company’s license to operate. But they cannot – and should not – do the product or service selling. The same principle applies in reverse – and that’s why internal communication is everything. Two skill sets and one broad framework that speaks properly within the Sphere of Public Engagement. You cannot marry Church and State – but both can still happily co-exist for the common good.