AD Communications’ founder Richard Allen reflects on thirty years in the business
Peering into the well of my memory I’m struck at how much has changed in my 30 years working alongside the print and packaging sectors.
When AD Communications opened its doors in 1984 to supply PR services to the print industry, our landscape was dominated by two weekly trade publications and a series of monthlies, which held huge sway over the industry. PR’s clamoured to ensure it was their client predominant in each feature.
The media was one route to market, exhibitions the other. Hard to imagine in today’s multi-channel world of B2B communications; it secured a God-like status for these channels. PR meant column inches and getting visitors to attend your stand at the industry’s two international exhibitions. CRM really was in its infancy as only lip service was paid to customer databases.
While I could revel in the simplicity of yesteryear, today’s world is a huge step forward. Now we can add value because of our in-depth expertise and ability to strategise and define high level messaging, without which clients would miss out on a third party perspective.
We’ve moved way beyond the press release and the case study as the tools of the trade; we now need to fully understand the marketing mix and advise how an integrated approach can deliver results, how this can be brought to life, advising how and when to tap into specialists.
As content creators, communications professionals are well situated to provide the high level overview required, while responding to the ever changing, ‘always-on’ demands of today’s marketers, who have a proliferating set of channels needing expertly crafted content to engage with audiences.
To gain client credibility requires trust and to get this you need to show that you understand their unique challenges. AD was quick to anticipate the transition from print’s UK and US-centric focus to today’s global industry. Appointing multi-lingual personnel early on gave us a head start in earning clients’ respect, demonstrating our ability to communicate with local teams, virtually anywhere.
The globalisation and homogenisation of brands has seen the adoption of more centralised campaigns, sometimes to the detriment of local market nuances, but with advantages for clarity and consistency of message.
So too, an announcement in one country is an announcement to the world. You can’t stagger a roll-out across markets, so transparency and managing expectations are other critical success factors, always being mindful to protect and invest in your brand’s reputation at all times.
New digital channels are driving this change and will continue to do so. Oddly enough, the requirement to communicate on-message and on-time across different channels is a decisive factor in communications taking its seat at the marketing top table, rather than the days when we sat in the ante room!
Adaptability is another weapon in our armoury. With more fluidity in senior marketing roles than in the days of the job for life; agencies can find themselves implementing plans after the architect has gone!
As emerging markets start to drive the print, packaging and visual communications sectors, our industry will lose its attachment to its legacy issues – no bad thing as this will make us move with the times and open up to influences from other sectors. So too, at AD we are open to the contributions and fresh perspectives that team members from other backgrounds can make to our clients.
Conversely, longevity goes a long way in B2B technology PR, as depth and breadth of expertise certainly gives you the edge.
Boasting a client list that includes household brands and innovative PLCs, alongside entrepreneurial start-ups is the result of a lot of hard work and investment on our part as well as our clients’. We’re indeed proud to buck the industry’s typical client retention rates.
We have to remind ourselves too that life has changed greatly for the B2B journalist who has been riding the same uncertain digitally-charged wave along with the rest of us. While sometimes they are frustrated that suppliers put customers first, I think that now there’s greater recognition of our mutual co-dependence.
Every player in our eco system has had to adapt. Exhibitions have had to prove their relevance in recent years; there’s now much more content, in addition to the exhibitor stands. So too, printers have had to re-define their worth and adapt hugely to new technologies.
Likewise, we as communications professionals cannot rest on our laurels and operate in a silo. We must be able to advise across the marketing mix and offer a rounded service to our clients, embracing the full spectrum of old school and new school media channels. As the saying goes, change is a constant. But it’s heartening to note that, providing you’re prepared to step up, as AD shows, you can change, thrive and stay alive.