This is our Uber moment

by Rob Lovegrove, Head of Digital

Published on
February 13, 2017

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Debate in the ‘PR’ world regarding digital disruption has never been more apparent than now. Digital disruption used to mean agencies and communication practitioners working on how they introduce social media into their business, heralding a handful of likes and followers with proclamations of success.

But the time for playing in the digital space and getting serious now faces every PR and communication professional. This is our Uber moment.

Our profession (and I’m referring to PR and communication not marketing or advertising) previously relied on column inches in the daily newspaper, a headline on the evening news, standing up at a town hall event to deliver our message or preparing an Oscar-worthy CEO speech.

Our measure of success? What would it have cost us to advertise? How many people heard our message? The really good comms professionals could link business outcomes to their actions but often there’d be another factor in play, a sales or marketing campaign running at the same time, a downturn in a competitor’s business or so on.

We have come a long way since those days. The communication, marketing and advertising professions are merging, talent is zig-zagging the once gaping chasm. Our measurement techniques have been lifted out of the marketeers’ playbook – quantifying followers, sentiment scores and so on.

But many of those techniques are the equivalent of taxis introducing air fresheners to counter the juggernaut that is Uber – nice but I’m left still wanting more.

To stand the test of time, agencies and in-house communication professionals need to make a quantum leap and it needs us to introduce other disciplines alongside marketing and advertising, namely data analytics and behavioural science.

I’ve long been a fan of Harvard academic Gerald Zaltman’s book How Customers Think. It shaped my approach to defining stakeholders, not by demographic but by psychographics. It challenged me to consider how we present messages to inform and encourage action. It was a constant reminder that decisions are made both consciously and subconsciously.

That leads me on to how some communication professionals kid themselves (and others) that presenting Google Analytics back to the board and growth in Facebook followers is their proof positive that they’ve become data experts.

“Yes, we’ve seen an increase in 30-35 year old males engaging with our content and we’ve seen a decrease in bounce rates”. Great – now tell me what that really means?

I read this article a couple of weeks ago and it reaffirmed the direction that Rowland is taking, to place tangible data at the heart of how we define audiences, how we communicate and how we measure our success.

Rowland is a data business. It just so happens we provide communication, digital and creative support to act on that data.

Hats off to Cambridge Analytica, and others like them (including Rowland) that will become known for doing to the communication industry what Uber did to the taxi industry and Airbnb did to the travel and hotel industry.