Features

Global PR guru Lou Hoffman – on China, bad journalists, fake ‘thought leadership’ and George Orwell’s ‘sound bite’

Covering diverse topics – including the shortcomings of PRs and journalists, fake ‘thought leadership’, George Orwell, China and much more besides – the Hoffman Agency CEO, Lou Hoffman, talks with Mumbrella Asia’s Dean Carroll

To kick us off, why don’t you give us a health check on the public relations industry – are you seeing industry growth or decline, given that the global economy is not at its healthiest?

“Historically, PR has weathered poor economic times better than other marketing services. Regardless of the economy, companies still need to sell stuff and perceive PR as one of the more cost-effective ways to deliver air cover for sales. While we’re not exactly a microcosm of the industry, we had our first year of double-digit growth in all territories – Asia, Europe and the United States – last year and expect a repeat performance in 2017.

“Still, I don’t view the overall industry as healthy. It’s like the person who goes to the doctor for an annual check-up. The doctor says congratulations, your vitals are fine today but unless you change your eating habits and exercise, you’re not going to feel so fine in the future.

“The PR industry looks solid today on paper, but it must change and redefine its offering. Today’s chief marketing officers are less keen to invest in conventional PR like news releases and media relations. We all can see the trend of an increasing per cent of the spend going toward digital services.

“I’m not saying that PR is standing still. It is changing. I just question whether the industry is changing fast enough to earn the lead pin when it comes to digital services.”

Do companies really need PR agencies? Donald Trump seemed to do OK handling his own PR previously. And on a personal note, I have to say that as a journalist PRs are normally more of a hindrance than a help when you are trying to get access to someone or the story behind the story?

“Well, that didn’t take long. Second question and you’re already pushing my buttons with Mr Trump.

“Look, companies hire PR agencies for a variety of reasons. Gaining an outsider’s perspective can be valuable. Sometimes it’s about creativity. Other times they simply want additional resources. The fact that Trump parlayed his PR acuity into getting elected president doesn’t change these tenets.

“Is Trump really doing OK at handling his own PR now that he’s in office? Have you watched a Sean Spicer press conference? It’s tough to tell the difference between the real thing and Melissa McCarthy’s parody on Saturday Night Live.

“I’m reminded of the line: ‘A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client’. Since Trump took office on January 20, there’s been an onslaught of communication debacles. Basic stuff like making sure proof points support grandiose statements. Like conducting what-if scenario planning before rolling out new policies.

“Regarding your final point, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the journalist’s agenda and PRs agenda are not one and the same. There are going to be times when it’s in the company’s best interest to not provide access or to provide access to a spokesperson other than the CEO or another senior exec. Experienced PR folks know how to navigate this dance in building long-lasting relationships with journalists.”

So is Trump the greatest PR man of all time given what he has achieved?

“Again, don’t mistake Trump’s ability for generating media coverage and infatuation with Twitter as effective PR. I remember reading that Trump got close to US$2 billion worth of media stories during the presidential campaign, twice the amount of Hillary Clinton. Sure, this wide and not-so-deep veneer got him elected. Yet, the same approach as president is eroding his reputation as a world leader.”

OK, moving on. George Orwell once said: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” Any thoughts on that sentiment?

“While I appreciate Orwell’s gift for a sound bite – didn’t he also say all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others? The relationship between journalism and PR is not a black-and-white proposition.

“Of course, there are situations where a PR is pushing corporate drivel, which fits Orwell’s sentiment. Often though, PR serves as one of many resources at the journalist’s disposal to write stories. If I have a client that offers technology for driverless cars and a Reuters journalist is writing a story on the possibility of bad guys hacking driverless cars, my client’s commentary on the security of driverless cars doesn’t lessen the value of the journalism.

“If I can get on my soapbox for a minute — PR makes an easy whipping boy for journalists. Yes, the profession has a habit of receiving self-inflicted wounds, but there’s just as much bad journalism as bad PR out there. The difference is that PR folks don’t take joy — or prefer to not bite the hand that feeds them — calling out debatable journalistic actions.  

“I have this theory, the 3 per cent rule, meaning that 3 per cent of those in a given profession are extraordinary, 3 per cent are dreadful and the rest fall somewhere in between. I would argue the 3 per cent rule applies to both PR and journalism.”

Different topic now. Your agency is global, but you’ve been in the Asia-Pacific market for 20 years now. Is Asia where you see the future growth for your company and the industry more generally?

“No question, our Asia-Pacific operation is critical to sustaining growth. But there’s more to it than the sheer buying power in Asia increasing, which in turn causes companies to invest more PR dollars in the region.

“Our presence in Asia has helped define who we are as a company. It’s one thing for staff in the US and Europe to collaborate. It’s another to collaborate with colleagues in Asia and experience non-Western cultures. PR people are intrinsically curious. Our presence in Asia feeds this curiosity in a way that can’t be measured by revenue.

“For clients and potential clients, our Asian operation helps us to differentiate us and punch above our weight when we’re typically competing against the mega shops who outweigh us by US$200M or more. A quick example. We won one of the more prestigious assignments in our history last December with the French government to support the country’s tech industry. While I have no way of knowing how the final decision was made, I’m sure our Asia-Pacific team was one of the reasons we won the assignment.

“Stepping back for a moment, I feel we have a unique set of assets. Yet, we have work to do in figuring out how to best leverage these assets into services that move us up the value chain and can’t be easily replicated by competitors. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be constrained by the PR box. For example, more and more Silicon Valley start-ups are entering Asia. Given our strength in both places, we’re in a perfect position to help these start-ups from a marketing perspective, not just to provide PR services.”

What are the challenges for an American guy like you in doing PR, and building a business, in Asia?

“The first challenge came in the early days with many questioning our commitment to the region. I’ll always remember meeting with HP, a US client at the time, right after we opened our first Asian office in Singapore in 1996.

“The HP manager there essentially called me a carpetbagger and said that if we were still in town after a year to look him up again. Well, we were still in town one year later and I did meet with him again. We still didn’t get HP’s business, but I think he respected that we kept the scent of the trail.

“There were the obvious challenges as well — not speaking the local languages, coming up the curve on the different cultures and business practices etc. But one lesson I learned early on was to be yourself. Regardless of culture, people can sense when a person is genuine and cares about the mission.

“I also think being an American had some advantages. I had more latitude to deviate from the status quo. People chalked it up to being American.

“One more thought — the talent challenge dogs all consultancies regardless of nationality. It’s tough to find people who understand the nuance of the local culture, know how to bridge East with West and navigate the complexities that come with multi-market campaigns. It’s certainly been hard work to build up this expertise in our own company.”

And how important has China become within the region and globally, considering the critical mass in that country?

“Massively important. Even those words are an understatement. After underperforming in China for some time our number one global priority last year, not just in Asia, was to get China right. That’s why it was such a big deal to hire Jason Cao to lead our China team and win marquee accounts in China like LinkedIn.

“We still have a way to go, but I feel extremely bullish about our position in China today. Finally, we have the type of foundation that should drive growth for years to come. Of course, I’m knocking on wood as I say this.

“There are so many unique characteristics about China, it can be a challenge to leverage regional expertise there. You need China-centric expertise, which means you have to achieve a certain size in China to amortise the cost and make the economics work.”

Do you think US-China trade will be damaged by the Trump presidency?

“Right after Trump was elected, I figured the negative talk on trade relations with China would fade and cooler heads would prevail. Now I’m not so sure.

“I read a quote from an economist that said: ‘In an age of global supply chains, you cannot take a chainsaw to trade agreements and not end up cutting your foot off.’ Here’s the problem with Trump. He seems perfectly fine with the idea of hobbling on one foot to curry favor with a faction of Americans who believe the relationship with China is a zero-sum game.

“It seems inevitable that at some point Trump will target China with some type of trade sanction. And China will respond in kind with trade sanctions against the US. I’d like to think such tit-for-tat won’t materially impact our business. But we’ll see. Unfortunately, I don’t think Henry Kissinger will be coming out of retirement any time soon.”

Changing topic, is there a formula for a great PR line and strategy – in your view?

“Two thoughts on this one. While I’m all for efficiency, which gets into processes or to use your word formulas, it’s critical thinking that causes a PR campaign to rise above the noise. In other words, take fresh eyes to a scenario, do your homework and problem solve. PR can at times fall into the trap of ‘rinse and repeat.’

“I also think PR tends to minimise the importance of tactical execution. Everyone wants to be strategic. Calling someone tactical is akin to putting the scarlet letter T {a visible note of something you have done wrong} on their shirtfront. Great tactical execution can actually make up for flawed strategy, but if your tactical execution is mediocre then even a McKinsey-like strategy can’t save you.”

Lots of PR agencies now talk about positioning clients as ‘thought leaders’. And as journalists we get approached all of the time by PRs offering what they claim to be ‘thought leader’ opinion pieces, which turn out to be nothing more than the usual promotional puff pieces we could never run unless it was a clearly labelled paid-for advertorial. So there seems to be a complete disconnect between the reality and the rhetoric in this regard, don’t you agree?

“There’s some truth to your perspective. Here’s the disconnect between reality and the rhetoric. Let’s start with the first word ‘thought’. Sure, it’s easy enough for any company to have thoughts. So far so good.

“The challenge comes when adding that pesky second word ‘leadership.’ Unfortunately, many companies are implementing what amounts to ‘thought followship’; simply repeating perspectives that have already been expressed or worse, as you point out, promoting themselves. When a company truly leads with a fresh way of looking at an issue — and plays the long game as opposed to parachuting in with a one-time hit — it advances the discourse.

“We work with many tech companies. Often the CEO and the management team hail from engineering orientations. When it comes to thought leadership, they typically gravitate toward the middle ground on a given issue – believing that’s the safe place to be, when in fact, it’s the worst place to be. We coach our clients that thought leadership requires taking a stand to lead on an issue. Still, it’s tough for some execs to take this leap because by definition, it means others will disagree and even criticise.”

Often, agencies just don’t have the courage to say to a client: ‘No, that won’t work, journalists just won’t go for that.’ Is that a fair assessment?

“Hey, it happens. And by the way, it happens to all consultancies, including us.

“When I spoke with Robin Hicks (the former Mumbrella Asia editor) last November during the celebration of our 20-year anniversary in Asia, I discussed the need for the profession to push back on clients – ideally with finesse, to ensure we’re taking the most productive actions. As I mentioned to Robin, culture and what constitutes respect make this even more of a challenge in Asia.

“Looking specifically at the issue of pitches to the media, we’ve had some success educating clients by applying supply-and-demand economic theory to media relations, which goes along this line. PR essentially pitches five different types of story: public domain news, non-public domain news, industry features, corporate features and bylines. Now, consider demand from journalists for these five different story types and you quickly get to the crux of the issue.

“PR continues to bury journalists in public-domain content and news releases that have the lowest demand from journalists. And the type of story that journalists value the most — the ones not in the public domain — is what PR generates the least.

“This is where the benefit of what we term ‘one-off storytelling’ comes in. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that it takes an enlightened client to sign up for this approach since it emphasizes quality of media coverage over quantity.”

In addition, some organisations seem to employ PR agencies simply to be able to use a known PR name in their investor relations and so on – but with no intention of actually doing any PR. Have you come across that scenario?

“I haven’t come across this. Still, it doesn’t surprise me. Engagement with a PR consultancy can bring credibility to a company. It’s one of the reasons that start-ups will hire a PR consultancy before their product is ready for the marketplace.”

You once said about PR: “The mix of writing, creativity, critical thinking and periodic drama fit me.” Can you tell us about some of the ‘drama’ you’ve experienced over the years, you must have some great dinner table stories?

“I love the communications profession and the consultancy side of the business for all the reasons you mentioned. Any activity that involves more than one human being has the potential for drama. Add in the client-agency tug-of-war, the money at stake and the challenge to gain attention and you’ve got the makings of a Netflix show.

“One of my work-drama favorites came from supporting a client that was downsizing a manufacturing facility and wanted to reduce expenses across the board. With no internal communication function, they asked me to sit with the general manager and CFO as they went through the tedious task of looking at each line-item cost that exceeded $100 a month. My role was to sanity check any cuts that could hurt the company’s reputation from an external perspective.

“This was a mind-numbing process out of a Dilbert cartoon. There were literally hundreds of line items with the CFO reading each one and the GM saying ‘nay’ or ‘yay’ with a discussion ensuing if there was a disagreement. All this took place in monotone voices, like two people talking in the backroom during a piano recital. After a few hours of white-collar torture, the CFO utters the words: ‘Friday jelly donuts.’ The GM springs out his chair and shouts: ‘Friday jelly donuts? No way! That would kill morale.’

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

Another personal gripe about the worst PR firms out there. Why on earth do they get interns to call publications asking: “Did you receive my {usually irrelevant} press release?” It is very frustrating when these juniors have no knowledge of either the journalists they are calling or the PR they are allegedly pushing. Is that a case of firms then just being able to go back to the client saying: “Well, we emailed x many journalists and we called x many journalists so you’re well covered and we’ve hit the agreed quota’?”

“What’s more surprising is there continues to be a market for this type of work. I think it was David Ogilvy who said that clients get the advertising they deserve. The same could be said for PR. If companies treat PR as a commodity, underfund PR or depend on procurement to secure the low-cost bidder, they can end up with a product like the one you described.

“We created a SlideShare deck called How clients get the most out of us that has close to 20,000 views. As the title suggests, it explains the client actions that lead to our best work. How the client manages an agency is a huge variable in determining what comes out of the other end of the pipe.”

Your company already has offices around the world in the United States, Europe and Asia. Where is the next untapped market for you and why?

“Before I answer your question, a little bit of context. We figured out a long time ago that we don’t have to be everywhere. If a client has a global PR budget of US$5M spread across 40 or so markets covering Asia, the US, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America we’re not going to be the right fit. We don’t have the scale.

“But the reality is that the vast majority of client assignments, particularly when you zero in on the B2B space, don’t fit this specification. Most multi-market campaign budgets fall into the US$400K to US$1M range covering three to eight markets or so. Our single P/L emphasis makes it easy to leverage thinking and content across geographies, so we have a huge advantage over the mega shops that worship individual office P/L.

“How might we double down on this strategy? In Europe, the assignment with the French government I mentioned earlier opens the door to unique opportunities in France. As a result, we’re taking a look at the potential benefits of opening an office in Paris.

“In Asia, we’ve seen increasing client demand for South East Asia. Markets like Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. This has caused us to start evaluating whether an office in Jakarta might make sense at some point in time.”

You employ 130 people across your company. How many of them do you know by name and how would you describe your management style?

“Now that would be an interesting test. I know most of our staff members by name.

“As for my management style, I read something years ago in the Harvard Business Review on leadership that left a lasting impression: ‘Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk … and not realising it.’

“It’s true. I strive to turn this equation upside down, looking for ways that I contribute to the success of others. I’ve never had a personal assistant. Lord knows my organisational skills could use help, but the benefit of no barrier to access outweighs other considerations.

“I try to lead by example, staying plugged into both new-business development as well as client work. I also value strength of conviction. If you’re going to win me over to your point of view, show me passion, not just the intellectual case.”

What is the work you are most proud of and why?

“That’s tough. After 30 years in the business, we’ve executed a number of campaigns that I consider to be extraordinary work. Three come immediately to mind.

“The Google Eye programme in Asia for example, with Eye standing for empowering young entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, Google has restrictions on what we can share publicly, but what I loved about the work is that it was bigger than PR. It took on a business issue, cultivating the start-up community in Hong Kong. You mentioned earlier that much of what companies characterise as thought leadership is nothing more than self-promotion. The Google Eye programme was thought leadership at its best.

“I also have fond memories of work for Cyrix, an upstart taking on Intel in the microprocessor business. Everyone loves a David-versus-Goliath story. They just forget one not-so-minor detail. It was a one-shot deal. David took down Goliath with a single shot from his sling. Our Cyrix team went toe-to-toe with Intel for two years, positioning Cyrix as a viable alternative. I would argue that communications contributed as much to the company’s business success as the engineering team.

“The third campaign that makes the ‘proud list’ involved an online shipping company called Endicia, now part of Stamps.com. In spite of internal politics, we gained client sign-off for a blended campaign that combined PR and bulldozing the corporate blog to create an educational site from ground zero. Within 18 months, the site was outperforming vertical trade magazines in its space. Stamps.com acquired Endicia for US$215M in cash. There’s no question in my mind that our brand building increased the valuation.”

Your firm has won many industry awards – including the recent Mumbrella Asia Award for Culture win. But what value do you place on such awards? Do you enter to impress clients with wins, incentivise your teams to create great work or something else entirely?

“All of the benefits you mentioned apply. Our people work damn hard and do outstanding work. While nothing tops the positive words from a client and renewing a contract, the staff also enjoy industry recognition.

“I view awards as an important part of our brand-building effort. We are never going to be the size of a Burson Marsteller or Weber Shandwick. Winning as many awards as we have is one way to send a message to the marketplace that doing great work isn’t about size.”

If we try to deconstruct creativity: where do great ideas come from?

“I don’t think creativity comes from freak individuals, but I do think creative individuals share one common trait. They’re brave.

“If something is creative, by definition it defies convention. This puts the person putting forth the idea in a vulnerable position. People might ridicule the idea. Even though they won’t say it, they might be thinking it’s downright stupid.

“So part of what we try to do in shaping the agency’s culture and then at the account team level is to make it as easy as possible for people to be brave. As you would expect, this can be especially valuable for younger talent, as they aren’t going to have the confidence of someone with 15 years of experience. Yet, younger professionals are often in the best position to offer fresh thinking when it comes to areas such as digital.

“Here’s another way of looking at creativity. What crushes the creative process? Multitasking hurts the creative process. Muscle memory hurts the creative process. And while group brainstorming has a place, there are times when an individual will be more creative alone and in deep thought.

“Going back to bravery, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the same dynamic applies to clients. Creativity typically wins the day when it comes to agency reviews. Yet, I’ll bet 90 per cent of this creativity never makes it into execution mode because clients prefer to go for the safe option or aren’t willing to fight for the funding.

“If clients valued creativity as much on the execution side as they do in conducting agency reviews, it would accelerate the growth of creativity in our industry. Hey, entire books have been written on creativity. Obviously, there’s no easy answer.”

You will have seen the industry before and after the frenzy of mergers and acquisitions in recent decades. Many people complain about the long-hours culture relating to the big holding companies and the focus on shareholder dividends rather than great work that can be expensive and reduce profit margins. Any thoughts?

“Every time a PR merger or acquisition involving one of the big holding companies surfaces, read the news release with this question in mind” ‘Will the deal help the current and prospective clients of the two companies?’

“Before going further, I appreciate that there are some advantages to scale. As discussed earlier, it would be difficult for us to take on say, a US$5M assignment. But when does scale become corporate bloat?

“Back to the initial question, these big transactions are all about adding revenue and eliminating costs to dress up the balance sheet for Wall Street. They have nothing to do with creating a better product for clients.”

Are the clients complicit in this race to the bottom in that they often demand lower prices and are in turn willing to accept mediocre work?

“I think I already answered this in the question about interns doing the heavy lifting with the answer including the quote from David Ogilvy that clients get the advertising they deserve.”

So have you ever been tempted to sell your company to one of the big global groups, is there an exit strategy in place?

“I have the best job in the world. My wife and I enjoy a pretty good lifestyle, which we define as being able to shop for groceries at Whole Foods and not have to look at the prices.

“So when we’ve been approached over the years, the key questions are. How does the transaction enable us to deliver a better product to our clients? How does the transaction increase the satisfaction of our staff? And selfishly, how does the transaction make my job better?

“No one has ever been able to make a compelling case answering those questions. I suppose it reflects poorly on me as a business manager that there is not an exit strategy in place.”

Are there any great PRs out there in the modern landscape today that are doing amazing things in your view, whether it be an agency or an individual?

“Observing from afar, even though John Tsang didn’t end up in the Hong Kong chief executive role, I thought he did a tremendous job in communicating his story and beliefs. I don’t have any special insights into his communications team, but it’s clear that they had their act together and that Mr Tsang values the power of PR.

“Looking at organisations, it’s easy to be amazed by big consumer brands like an Apple or Coca-Cola or IKEA. Yet, I would argue that true brand building for a B2B company is much tougher. I’ve been impressed with the communications from General Electric in recent years. Here’s a B2B company that gets it. Integrated communications that take full advantage of owned media. Super visual in their communications. Content that goes beyond the ‘me, me, me and here’s a little more about me.’

“Naturally, I think we’re pushing the boundaries of what communications can be. GE is an outlier when it comes to B2B communications. Most B2B companies do a poor job when it comes to developing content and getting their stories to the outside world. Our role model isn’t another PR agency. It’s the T Brand Studio, which creates the sponsored content for The New York Times. That’s the type of storytelling we aspire to bring to our clients.”

Who ranks in your top three PRs of all time and why?

“Lee Kuan Yew {the first prime minister of Singapore} goes the top of the list. In a region where the typical statesmen strive for vanilla, Mr Lee was a master storyteller. By storyteller, I don’t only mean the ability to tell a compelling narrative with a beginning, an end and something going awry in between, although he could certainly do this. What’s more impressive was his natural instinct to package his point of view in a way that both grabbed attention and informed.

“Warren Buffet {the American investor} also makes the top three. If he ever wanted to take a pay cut, he would be a killer account director. Straight talk with an entertainment dimension. His letter to shareholders in the Berkshire Hathaway annual reports should be required reading for anyone involved in business communications.

“For the third slot, I’ll go with whomever was leading the charge in rebuilding the Toyota brand after the PR fiasco in 2010. When Toyota recalled millions of cars and then bungled the communications, I thought there was no way they would ever bounce back. The fact that here we are in 2017 with the company’s brand as strong as ever says the top communicator knew what he or she was doing.”

What role will PR agencies play when artificial intelligence virtual personal assistants are making all of the product buying decisions on behalf of human consumers?

“It sounds like you’re saying that marketing overall will eventually be replaced by artificial intelligence. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Technology is great at addressing inefficiencies in a given market. Take dating. Is there anything more inefficient than going to a bar to find a date? That’s why the online dating sites have been so successful. They address a market inefficiency. Before going further, I should state for the record that I’ve been happily married for nearly 30 years.

“Turning to communications, we definitely have our share of inefficiencies that technology could address. Here’s one example. A journalist’s writing is in the public domain for all to see. Why couldn’t a form of artificial intelligence digest hundreds of stories from a given journalist and spit out the topics he or she is likely to write about as well as patterns in the construction of the stories?

“Such a tool would aid in shaping a better pitch that aligns with how the journalist writes. The fragmentation of influence is another area crying for help through technology. Years ago, I met a 12-year-old kid named Max Swisher at a Bloomberg function. It turned out that he wrote a blog called Good Morning Geek that had gained quite a following. My point is that for any given market segment, there are hundreds or even thousands of Max Swishers who have influence. But we need the tools to identify them and quantify their influence.”

With print publications dying, young people rejecting linear television in preference of apps, echo chamber websites and walled social media networks – just how will PR carrying on reaching the next generation?

“I don’t think anyone has cracked the code on reaching millennials and Gen Z. It goes back to what I said earlier, that the best PR is a byproduct of critical thinking and problem-solving underscored with courage.

“We’ve had a taste of reaching a younger demographic in support of brand building for a university that specialises in the digital arts. The one communication fundamental that never changes is identifying where the target audience gets its information and what influences their decisions. You’re right, high school kids aren’t reading newspapers or watching TV. Instead we developed a campaign that includes activities like a grassroots effort to reach high school art teachers and the more visual social channels like Instagram.

“I’m sure we’ll see agencies spring up that specialise in targeting millennials and Gen Z. Maybe they already exist.”

Finally, what are the game-changers coming down the line for the PR industry and where is The Hoffman Agency positioned in relation to them?

“If PR stopped worshipping the message, that would be a game changer. There’s still way too much energy put into crafting pristine messages that no one cares about. In all my years in the communications business, I’ve never once heard a customer say: ‘Wow, that’s a great message.’ I think our emphasis on applying storytelling techniques has helped us move clients away from a dependence on messaging. We just built out a microsite on our methodology for storytelling techniques that’s open to everyone. If we can help the industry improve the writing of narratives, that’s a good thing for everyone, including us.

“Online discovery is another game changer. The target audience at some point goes online to conduct due diligence. As a result, PR needs to be building awareness of brands in the digital world, which gets into areas that have traditionally been outside the boundaries of PR box. Will PR change fast enough to lead the digital services charge? That’s a tough question to answer.

“We’ve been retooling our expertise and offering since 2010 with an eye on increasing the probability that our clients show up when their target audiences gather information online. It turns out that industrial-grade storytelling, PR and expertise in organic search make for a good combo in making this happen.

“As technology increasingly dominates our lives, ‘high-touch’ is going to come back in style. People are going to crave connection. This has the potential to be a game changer for communications. How do we help our clients or companies cultivate connection with their potential buyers? And what about talent?

“If you asked companies to name their greatest obstacle to success, many would say recruitment. How does a company reshape its recruiting process to come across as high-touch to job candidates, to better connect with job candidates?

“If you analysed the auto-reply emails that arrive after the submission of a CV, it seems like companies actually try to squeeze every drop of humanity out of these notes. They’re the opposite of high-touch. I would argue that PR, not HR, is best equipped to tackle this issue. But again, it calls for PR to embrace critical thinking and redefine how it contributes.”

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