Philip Sheldrake

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Meanwhile, a new approach to marketing and PR consultancy

MeanwhileI've teamed up with some very useful chaps to form Meanwhile. We're defining venture marketing. Before I explain that further, I'll elaborate on the main trends that make me think Meanwhile is precisely the right approach at the right time.

In short:

  • Previously distinct disciplines are converging
  • There is a renewed focus on measurement and evaluation of marketing and PR related programmes with boards demanding an unprecedented level of accountability
  • A new framework must emerge placing influence at the heart of business strategy.

Here's how I present the situation in my upcoming book, The Business of Influence (Wiley, April 2011):

Let me generalise. Marketing is too hit and miss. Advertising is in spasm. Public relations is polarised, with a minority that ‘get it’ and a majority that don’t know they don’t. Customer service is drowning. The ‘digital’ slash ‘social’ lot are trying hard to live up to the false promise they promised. The Chief Exec is frustrated that things just aren’t gelling. And most everyone is inward focused in the current recessionary (or at least ‘non-boom’) climate, focused on this month’s costs and cash flows.

Is this fair? No, I said I was generalising. But I have spoken with a fair few board directors from different disciplinary backgrounds in the last year or two that hold at least one of these views about the other disciplines, and not too rarely about their own.

Confusion reigns. We have SEO shops issuing press releases (and running reputational risks), advertising firms recruiting PR consultants, PR firms brushing up their SEO, and a “media buying shop” being awarded a major digital PR contract. Many organisations, not just end-users, appear to be suffering so-called social network fatigue.

Some baggage handlers break a guitar and some customer service staff claim ignorance and then it’s all hands fighting the fire. Nokia’s failure to understand changes in its market is partially attributed by Bloomberg BusinessWeek to it being in Finland “that meant it wasn't in the mix of innovative ideas, which would have forced it to question its assumptions – and watch its back – every day.” Separately, a Harvard Business Review article acclaims Nokia for its success in Asia in bringing the customer into the product design process (Rethinking Marketing, January 2010).

The over-arching conclusion of my book is picked out on the back cover:

Media has most definitely evolved, as have the ways in which we contemplate, design, communicate and execute strategy. And rather than technological evolution, we’re plainly in the midst of a technological revolution.

We have no choice then but to reframe marketing and PR in the context of 21st Century technology, 21st Century media and disintermediation, and 21st Century articulation of and appreciation for business strategy.

Our new consultancy, Meanwhile, does just that. Not only does this reframing inform our approach to defining projects and longer-term relationships with clients, but it has informed the selection of the partners ourselves. The uninformed might call us eclectic; the informed would call us transmedia, or cross-disciplinary; my colleague Gabbi Cahane calls it brutally relevant, a turn of phrase that has been adopted into our key messaging.

But what does this other phrase "venture marketing" mean exactly? Well it’s our way to describe the combination of the social influence of marketing and communications and the entrepreneurial approach of private equity and venture capital. We believe that the way we do business and get rewarded should be aligned with the way our clients do business and get rewarded. We like to structure deals that are founded upon mutual commitments, risks and rewards; playing to that justifiable trend I mentioned earlier re. accountability.

Is this the philosophy and strategy of the new model agency in the 21st Century? Time will tell, but we definitely think so.