July marks the start of an exciting new stage for salt as we become part of MullenLowe Group, a partner who shares our belief in the power of integration.
When we set up salt 17 years ago, we did so because we thought there was a better way to run a PR agency. We wanted to work in a stimulating environment where people brought their authentic selves to work, and delivered positive, meaningful change through communications.
As we grew, a cornerstone of that was integration – ‘playing nicely’ with complementary agencies and often acting as the glue in multi-disciplinary teams. In MullenLowe Group we have found the natural home from which to take that belief in integration to the next stage – a global integrated marketing agency that passionately believes in the hyperbundling of all communication disciplines.
We always felt that working in isolation limited the impact of communications. Making earned communications an integral part of the mix, especially in the planning stage, increased the impact of the entire campaign and helped budgets go further.
Like most people who have worked in PR, I am scarred by briefs to “PR the ad”, generally issued a day or two before it went on air, accompanied by requests to “make it go viral”. Don’t get me wrong – strengthening great ‘paid for’ ideas and leveraging investment made in films is important, especially in today’s zero-based budget world. It provides a challenging role for supplementary channels. But fortunately, owing to the rise of the digitally savvy consumer, the days of lazy, last-minute earned media briefs are largely over.
salt communications has never been a traditional PR agency, although the basic truth of PR, that you can’t force someone to tell your story, has always underpinned our thinking. What inspires me is the value that’s unlocked when the PR discipline is used strategically, to enhance external reputation and promote internal alignment.
As we grew, three things helped shape the way we work with clients and agency partners.
The first was our work examining what commercial organisations could learn from the way campaigners, pressure groups and NGOs planned and executed communications. Despite small budgets, these groups created hugely influential campaigns, whereas commercial brands with large budgets often had limited impact. This simple thought transformed the way salt’s clients looked at channels and creativity (we ran experiments to get brand marketers to re-imagine campaigns with smaller budgets). In other words, to create integrated campaigns, rather than siloed, single channel plans.
Second, we were asked by our client Unilever to sit on the task force that created IBC (Integrated Brand Communication) – the company’s then new approach to marketing. We helped shape the way non-traditional channels worked with core disciplines and we were able to apply that to some of the best brand campaigns I’ve worked on, such as the launch of Persil’s “Dirt is Good”; the creation of Lifebuoy’s “Help a Child Reach 5″ programme; and Sunsilk shampoo’s influencer collective. Amongst other things, this taught us how much work it takes to build high functioning integrated teams. Work that spans structure, process, geography, mindset and culture. We tackle this challenge on virtually every new client assignment – spanning corporate and employee engagement briefs as well as consumer communications – and it remains one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
The third has been the rise of purpose as a driving force in business and the work we have done to pioneer how companies and brands see their social obligations and create opportunities out of them. From our first social mission work in 2006, through becoming a B-Corporation, to creating stronger dialogue and effective partnerships between profit and not-for-profit, we have always believed that communications creates positive change. And more than that, purpose can only be effectively communicated if the earned support of credible experts, independent influencers and engaged employees is integrated from the start.
The next stage starts now, as we become MullenLowe salt. This is an exciting growth opportunity for our employees, clients and partners. We are now able to apply the thinking and approaches we have developed on a bigger canvas, with greater creative heft and access to a fuller range of marketing communications skills.
For me personally, this is the high point in nearly 20 years of arguing for a planning role for PR and full integration in the marketing mix. I apologise to the many people who must be tired of me banging on about this! But if we have done anything to help brands and businesses engage better with the people they are trying to make a connection with and make positive change, it’s worth it. And by the way, we’ve only just started.