This week on #ThursdayThought I am joined by Molly Aldridge, the global CEO of M&C Saatchi Public Relations to talk all things ‘future’ for the PR industry.
Molly Aldridge is the Global CEO and Co-founder of M&C Saatchi Public Relations. She joined the agency with the international remit of continuing to grow both the UK and global PR expertise across the group worldwide. The agency is now operational in ten markets. She has big agency experience including Cohn & Wolfe, Hill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick, and was previously the Global MD of Slam within IPG, which she set-up in 2006 resulting in a global network operating in 15 markets with more than 100 employees. Molly has 20 years of experience working with big blue chip companies across the consumer and corporate sectors including FMCG brands such as Coca-Cola, The Body Shop and Orange alongside luxury goods and premium products for example Nespresso, Russian Standard Vodka, Lotus, Beats By Dre, Disaronno Amaretto, The Palladium Alliance, W hotels and Wedgwood.
Her strengths lie in building strong consumer desire for brands via strategic insights resulting in engaging creative platforms – targeting the right audience with compelling content relevant to their lifestyles via celebrity partnerships/ambassador programmes, bespoke events and the right story.
The topic that is intriguing me the most at the moment is one I have touched upon previously in this series, the future of the PR industry. Last month, M&C Saatchi PR rebranded to M&C Saatchi Public Relations because the meaning of Public Relations has been lost. When I saw this move it did make me think about where the PR industry is and where it might be going in the future. So who better to quiz than Molly herself?
1. LE: What prompted the agency to change its name from M&C Saatchi PR to M&C Saatchi Public Relations?
Molly: We wanted to embrace our discipline of public relations and remind the industry what we felt this channel can really deliver upon for a brand and business. PR has become fairly synonymous with negative connotations including Spin and “absolutely fabulous” references and we wanted to provide our point of view of what we believe a best in class modern public relations company is all about – and the meaningful difference it can make to the brand partners we are privileged enough to work with.
2. LE: Do you think the misunderstanding of Public Relations is a problem that needs addressing by the whole industry? Why do you think it is so misunderstood?
Molly: Ideally yes! Whilst we were the first public relations company to go back to the future and discuss what we believe is the importance of public relations and the role it plays as we enter the age of earned media, other large networks have followed addressing the public relations communication problem. The more we talk about what we do best and how we can help brands to engage with the right audience resulting in cultural and commercial impact, the more public relations will be seen as a necessary, strategic channel that should sit at the heart of any comms planning.
3. LE: I’ve recently seen discussions surrounding whether Public Relations still stands as its own discipline or whether it should be described as part of Marketing, what are your thoughts on this / where do you see the industry going in the next 5 years?
Molly: I believe public relations is absolutely part of the wider marketing mix – and you need all channels, where appropriate, to be collaborating and working closely together to deliver best campaign resonance and influence, alongside delivering best bang for buck. I think more and more brands that we work with are using public relations as a standalone storytelling tool across social, editorial and experiential activations, preferring this route to larger ATL campaigns in many instances, so it will be interesting to see how the marketing mix continues to change over the next 5 years – but I believe that public relations will simply become more and more of a necessary and highly regarded marketing tool in the box – sometimes as part of an integrated programme of activity, sometimes as a powerful independent marketing channel in its own right.
4. LE: What would you say the biggest threat to the industry is?
Molly: Well informed and badly trained public relations practitioners. The recent battle around SEO links that played out on Twitter, the whole idea of PR being a dark art carried out by spin doctors is generally based on a select few that give the public relations industry a bad name. Also ensuring that the planners and strategists we use within the public relations industry stay close to the customers and consumers we’re trying to target. The advertising industry has had a lot of flak recently around losing touch with their contemporary audiences – insinuations that they are predominantly based in London, have a staff mainly under the age of 50, and therefore have a lack of relevant, real insights and research finding it difficult to deliver creative campaigns that resonate to the biggest pound spend outside of the M25 (the over 50s).
5. LE: What does Public Relations mean to you?
Molly: Right story. Right audience. Right time. Delivering results and influence that can be measured – be it purpose for good, brand repositioning, sales or behaviour change.
6. LE: What would your top tip be for anyone looking to go into Public Relations in the future?
Molly: Read everything you can. From blogs, to newspapers to Twitter. Get as much work experience as you can in any and all marketing companies – and ideally at a media house too. Question everything – and stay curious.
This is a topic that fascinates me and will always be changing. When I say I study public relations most people either look at me blankly or have totally the opposite idea of what the industry is all about. That is one of the reasons for the second to last question – what does Public Relations mean to her. That’s always an interesting one and it will often mean something different to each person.
Seeing such a big move made me want to talk to Molly and find out more, the industry has changed so much since I started studying PR and will still be so different by the time I graduate next year. Thank you, Molly for taking part in #ThursdayThought this week.