Q&A: Edelman’s Michelle Hutton on how the UK PR market compares to the local market

Michelle HuttonAt the end of last year Michelle Hutton was promoted to Edelman global practice chair, consumer, ending her four and a half years as Edelman Australia CEO. Back in Australia for the first time since her promotion, Hutton sat down with Miranda Ward to discuss the state of the industry.

How does the UK PR market compare to the local PR market?

I spent some time with the team here going through some of the work and it just reminded me that the Australian communications marketing PR industry is leading the way. We continue to do amazingly creative, insight-led big thinking campaigns that get up.

It’s the type of market here that perhaps because we’re a developed sophisticated marketing communications market and we’re smaller that we’re able to be a bit more nimble. We have the benefits of being small and a sophisticated market. Whatever it is, this market continues to do hugely innovative, creative public relations communications work.

What are some of the challenges facing the space?

In some respects we lost the social media race.

Public relations has inherently been built on how to create a great conversation and how to encourage and earn a shareable conversation, that’s in our DNA.

We have a great opportunity to think about how do we make sure that over the next five years we are somewhat redefining a new category. Here at Edelman we call it communications marketing. We think there is a great opportunity to help communications functions internally be better aligned with marketing and vice versa.

If you think about the marketing function, if you think about the CMO, never before has a CMO needed to know about the world of comms. If I’m a CMO I need to know about how do I get my internal employees across the whole organisation understanding the brands and living and communicating the brand values – so I have to know about internal comms.

Never before have I had to understand the political nature of the environment that I’m dealing with, what regulations are coming, what’s not coming, what do I need, what do I need to be mindful of? In the whole shared peer-to-peer economy, how do I listen better? How do I align myself to communications better to understand what people are saying? How do I adapt really quickly and be flexible and nimble?

Vice versa on the comms side internally within organisations, never before have communications people had to learn more about the brand piece.

What’s happening is this real construct between comms and marketing and how to bring those functions together more because they have to.

Does PR deserve a bigger share of the marketing budget?

I don’t know if it’s a budgetary conversation. It’s certainly an ideas conversation. Public relations people have the ability to help marketers create incredibly impactful ideas that will make a real difference to either a brand’s reputation or a brand positioning.

We have the opportunity to be the lead idea discipline more than what we currently do now.

The turf war – agencies are trying to do everything now: PR, social, digital etc. Are we going to see PR agencies absorbed into a larger full-service model?

No I don’t. I look at it in a slightly different way. If you look at the white space, or the new opportunity, the new need, whatever you want to call it in the middle and then you’ve got public relations agencies, creative agencies, media agencies,  digital agencies all racing to that space and that opportunity.

But if you think about it every discipline is coming to that with a slightly difference nuance or a slightly different perspective.

I don’t know if one discipline is necessarily going to win the race or win the pot, I doubt that.

I certainly think that public relations and communications professionals because of our understanding around earned sensibility of campaigns and idea, I certainly think we have the opportunity to have more of the ideas that are bought in that space.

Poem’s Rob Lowe said the rise of influencers is one of the biggest challenges to the traditional PR space – what are your thoughts?

I think it’s an opportunity, I don’t think of it as a challenge.

If I think of the Edelman business, I was just on the west coast in the US – Edelman has a massive digital business – the bulk of the work we’re doing out of the west coast which tends to be somewhat more innovative, it’s video influencer work. We’re at the forefront advising clients on who are the key influencers, how to work with them. It’s a rising part of our business and that’s what I think is driving the new era of growth in our digital business.

For ad agencies there has been a growing trend for clients to ditch retainers in favour or working with clients on a project-by-project base, is this a trend you’re seeing in the PR sector?

Yes. Around the world we are now seeing, we are finding ourselves not just at the table but given the opportunity to present ideas that marketers are buying. We are finding more and more, the communications client is incredibly important to us and will remain so, but increasingly it is the marketing client that is seeing the relevance and what we can bring to the table.

  • Miranda Ward is Mumbrella’s public relations and publishing editor

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