A time of change and opportunity

By Elise S. Mitchell, President of ICCO; CEO, Mitchell and Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network

Last week at our global summit in Helsinki, I was elected to serve as president of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation. I am proud to assume this role, particularly as our industry enters a new era of evolution. It is a time of great change and opportunity in the public relations profession. We must rise to it.

In the global marketplace, we see rapid advances in technology, innovation and disruption across numerous industries, economic uncertainty, political upheaval, and pressing social issues.

In our daily work as strategic communicators, we see head-spinning change. The rules of engagement with consumers are being rewritten daily. We must help our clients and our own teams master the power of digital media while navigating the fragmentation of platforms and channels. The demand for organizational authenticity and transparency is only escalating, as is the importance of hyper-local communication and consumers’ desires to be seen as unique individuals instead of proxies.

It’s a lot of change. But even more opportunity, if we’re willing to grab hold and make the most of it.

But that requires us to “Innovate, Engage, Evolve” if we want to lead in a transformational world. This year’s summit theme was chosen for a very specific reason: Our industry is on the cusp of significant change, and we must stay at least one step ahead of it.

It’s our job to be curious about the world, to understand and interpret the Zeitgeist. We must help our clients make sense of it all and run alongside them as they work to drive their businesses forward.

Our clients’ needs are changing

Let’s face it. Our clients’ needs are changing pretty significantly. They need our help to lead through this industry evolution.

You see it every day, and so do I. The role/responsibilities of our clients – many of them chief communications officer – is rapidly evolving. In addition to being a chief communicator, they are being asked:

  • to take on the role of chief convener
  • to act as a master negotiator
  • to lead collaboration across the enterprise
  • to build digital engagement systems
  • to leverage data and work hand-in-hand with the chief information officer to understand with far greater certainty what resonates with employees, customers and communities.

They’re being asked to transform their companies’ communications functions while their companies transform – all in real time.  In other words, building the plane while it flies.

We must change

As their trusted advisors, our competencies must continually expand. As learning leaders, we must embrace and adapt to new roles — and bring our teams along with us. Our agencies must change, too. We must become:

  • Better innovators – Coming up with new products and services that meet clients’ unmet and unforeseen needs;
  • Better business leaders – Restructuring our agencies to become nimbler and easier to do business with;
  • Better technologists – Studying and deploying technology in our services and to help us run stronger agencies;
  • Better data scientists – Bringing data and the knowledge it provides to the forefront of our decision-making and in our guidance to clients;
  • Better anthropologists – Finding deeper meaning in society, understanding how and why values are shifting, helping our clients become more relevant in their actions, and creating messages that resonate with their audiences’ hearts as well as their heads;
  • Better leaders – Creating compelling, values-based cultures in our own agencies that helps us attract, develop, and keep the best talent we can find from all backgrounds, offering the most exciting careers in place they love to come to work every day.

When we become these things, we will find we are better equipped to help our clients be the best they can be.  And when our clients succeed, so do we.

ICCO’s role

How can ICCO help?  I believe we are uniquely positioned as a global organization to help a great deal.

ICCO is a forum for our industry to come together and connect with each other from every corner of the world. We bring diverse perspectives to the public relations industry:

  • Today we have member national trade associations representing 55 countries across the globe – from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Australasia.
  • Collectively, these associations represent more than 2,500 PR firms.
  • We have 13 direct member consultancies who have international business interests.
  • We’re proud to have more than a dozen partnerships with other leading global industry organizations and sponsors who are innovating to help our industry succeed.

With this broad international engagement and perspective, I am confident ICCO can realize its vision to be the global voice of public relations consultancies.

Our business priorities for 2018

As I step into the president’s role, I’m excited to share with you that our board has worked together to identify three priorities and supporting strategies that ICCO will focus on in 2018.

#1 Priority: Raise professional and ethical standards of the public relations industry

We are an organization that stands firm on ethics and demands integrity from all members who want to be associated with ICCO.  We will do that by:

  • Strategy: Sharing reports and guidelines aimed at developing and protecting ethics and industry standards, such as the Helsinki Declaration, which we have just voted on and announced at this year’s ICCO Summit.

#2 Priority: Shape the future of public relations

We will help create greater consistency of standards and raise the bar for agencies in markets around the world, some that are just now emerging. We will encourage higher quality services among our members so clients will receive the best the industry has to offer. We will do that by:

  • Strategy: Highlighting key evolutions in the industry such as innovations, new technologies, and the expanding use of data.
  • Strategy: Providing reports and guidelines that offer trends, insights and research on the public relations industry and the broader marketing communications industry.

#3 Priority: Increase visibility for the role and value of public relations among decision makers

We will champion the unique contributions of our industry to help organizations achieve critical business goals. We will do that by:

  • Strategy: Partnering with business publications, events, universities, industry suppliers and professional bodies to increase visibility for the public relations profession.
  • Strategy: Providing information and expertise to media and business outlets regarding relevant issues and events.

ICCO provides many other member services and benefits including:

  • Events such as the global summit and other activities throughout the year to help you expand your knowledge and stay abreast of trends;
  • An international network of leaders and entrepreneurs you can partner with to grow your agency, and to give/receive referrals;
  • A portfolio of live and on-demand training programs to enhance your and your staff’s professional skills;
  • Our annual awards program to recognize your best work on a global stage.

I hope you’ll make the most of these and other ICCO resources. But while ICCO provides so much to you, I want to ask something in return. No doubt ICCO is a more effective organization when members like you are engaged.  So I invite you to do just that:

Get involved in ICCO:

  • Apply to speak at next year’s summit
  • Attend a roundtable event or gathering in your market – and bring a colleague with you
  • Write a post for the blog

Share with other ICCO members your:

  • Ideas
  • Best practices
  • Innovations
  • Trends
  • Standards
  • New business leads and referrals

Most of all, care about:

  • The future of our industry
  • How agencies are changing and must change
  • How public relations can make a difference
  • Each other

I look forward to working with you to move our clients, our agencies, our associations, and this great industry forward.