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A Public Relations Podcast: Smoke Signal Episode 16 – David Brain

In this episode I speak with industry veteran David Brain post the Accenture acquisition of Droga5 – an acquisition by a management consultancy into a creative agency that is of a size and scale that makes it different to what we have seen before.

David Brain uses an apt analogy to describe the competition the PR industry now faces from management consultants who are moving into brand strategy and creative: the PR industry has been training for the past decade to take on the boxing world champion in the weight class above them (creative agencies) but now having stepped into the boxing ring it has found an MMA athlete waiting for us as well.

Listen here, watch on YouTube or download on iTunes

David Brain has worked at some of the largest agencies globally, including 13 years at the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman, where he was a member of its global management Board as well as holding a number of regional CEO roles across Europe and Asia.

He’s recently taken a “step back” and now is on the board of ASX-listed communications network Enero; an advisory Board member of online New Zealand news magazine The Spinoff;  an investor and advisory Board member in start-up Parkable; and is currently launching a new research software Stickybeak.

In a recent blog David described the acquisition of Droga5 an ‘at scale threat’ to creative agencies that marks the end of PR’s brief chance to become a lead brand discipline.

David believes there was a moment in time, that is now closing due to greater competition from management consultants – the likes of Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte –  for PR to get more of the CMO budget (that can be anywhere from ten to twenty times the size of an organisation’s PR budget) by moving into strategy and creative.

That is, rather than falling in behind an idea and “making it famous through earned media”, PR could lead the creative idea from the beginning. But to do this PR agencies now must fight not only against  creative agencies (the boxer) but with acquisitions like Droga5 by Accenture we now face even greater competition by management consultancies (the MMA athlete).

David says: “That is a big fight for our industry to pick and win. There are no doubt individual agencies who can win that battle, but as an industry on mass, I don’t feel we now have the opportunity of being the lead strategy or creative agencies, an area that five or six years ago I thought we could own.”

“We have to be smarter and not go head to head with creative agencies who are more creative and management consultancies who arguably are more strategic from a business standpoint.”

David sees a better ‘on ramp’ to those larger CMO budgets, now being an area that is often dismissed – marketing automation.

The opportunity: marketing automation tools and technology – such as Marketo (purchased by Adobe for $4bn) and HubSpot – that is now more fundamental in how companies are managing their relationships with customers and partners and managing their outreach to prospects and customers.

“At their heart is placing different content in front of different people in different channels – that seems a natural area that PR can play.”

In the news I share my take-outs from the 2019 University of Southern California Annenberg Centre for Public Relations 2019 Global Communications Report which this year is titled PR:Tech.

Timely following the release of my PR Tech Tools Ecosystem, this year’s survey – of more than 1500 PR practitioners and this year for the first time 200 CEOs – focuses specifically the increasing impact of technology on improving (not replacing) the practice of public relations.

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