Thoughts on a DC meeting

The leaders of Ketchum’s corporate practice met in DC a few weeks ago. It was the first time I’d been and the city, and my colleagues certainly left a few long-lasting impressions.

1. Ketchum is an awesome company. The group sessions created a pretty high level of debate. Whilst I remain somewhat cynical about academic discussion of PR and communications, there were some outstanding practical insights that came out of the group sessions:

& understand our clients. In PR we often focus on the tactical. Secure media coverage, get a meeting with the minister etc. We need to continue to be results focussed but at the same time, we need to be more strategic. If we really understand our clients’ businesses, we will be in a better position to advise and execute communications programmes that will have a positive effect on the bottom line.

& break down the silos. Of course we all need specialist skills, but as my boss said,”stakeholders are consumers too”. To be really valuable to our clients, we need to think as widely as possible and not simply think of our own tactical specialism.

& It’s all about storytelling. Before starting out on a campaign, we need to really home our storytelling technique, but also understand where our campaign fits in our clients’ narrative – and that of the wider industry / community that they inhabit. A great story will help us integrate into the….

& PESO model. We need to better understand and work within the “Paid / Earned / Shared / Owned” communications dynamic. This isn’t just a consumer focussed model – as already mentioned, all our targets are consumers in one way or another.

2. We’ve got some incredibly talented people. Further “proof” of Ketchum’s strength came out in the client meetings. We were set tasks on clients most of us had never met before. Particularly challenging for me, as a capital / resources / energy / emerging markets / geopolitics person – this was straightforward corporate reputation / b2b stuff. And it was great. The client was (apparently) engaged, and ideas were bouncing around like a squash ball.

Senior comms people from the US, UK, Hong Kong, Spain and Brazil meshed pretty seamlessly, attempting, perhaps even successfully applying the theory we had discussed in groups to a live client situation. Our different backgrounds were apparent, not just in our accents, but our storyline ideas and how they could be applied across various markets.

What it really demonstrated to me was the value of a global integrated agency can be to a global client. As you all probably aware, I’m a naturally cynical person. I’m not a cheerleader. I find group hugs deeply embarrassing. But this collection of talent was seriously impressive (although is say so myself) and in an hour had helped the client think about the challenge and potential solutions in a different way to before.

3. We’ve got some incredible people. None of us is just our job. What was great was getting the chance to socialize with such a diverse set of people. So many different stories, so many different jokes; from the seriously silly, so the unmentionable filthy.

In conclusion, what the trip to DC really taught me was that as long as Ketchum’s internal focus remains on human interaction and development, than we’re doing the right thing. It’s the human element that makes the difference.we’re not androids that can be programmed, and most importantly, nor are the targets we seek to influence. Even investment bankers are people as well. Therefore, Ketchum by investing in its people is adding vale our clients as well.

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