Written by Phil Hall • Published 16th December 2014 • 4 minute read

PR agency chairman (The PHA Group) Phil Hall discusses why senior members of organisations must adapt to integrated communications in the digital age. 

In this fast-moving world we live in, it is incredible how many businesses lag behind. In my experience, it is often because the leader of the business is heading towards his or her grey years and thus there is a reluctance to go with the future in preference to living in the past.

It particularly affects the professional sector where lawyers, banks, doctors have a tendency to rely on “the way we have always done it”. It has served them well in the past so why change?

The reason is the world has changed. It doesn’t matter who you are – and the new clients at our agency prove this – people don’t do things the way they used to. Google or their preferred search engine is now the first port of call whether you are seeking medical help, to purchase a new service or reassurance that the expert that has been recommended to you really knows his or her stuff.

Some of the wealthiest people in the world and some of the biggest organisations have become customers of The PHA Group through search engines. First, it amazed us that individuals with such influence, contacts and a breadth of knowledge would make contact with us without any previous relationship. But we soon learnt to embrace it!

Why do they do it? First, because it is so easy; secondly it is so convenient (you can search 24/7 when it suits you; thirdly they like to go outside their circle of influence for confidentiality reasons and lastly search engines give infinite opportunities to compare and contract, in other words, does this sounds like a company for me?

One of my favourite lines when pitching for new business is to explain to the would-be customer that they need to understand how to “play” on the media’s turf. The media own the media and thus you must play by their rules. You can’t tell them what to do, you must understand their needs and issues and work with them to your advantage.

And so it is with new business generally. If the would-be clients are finding your business on Google then you must understand how to present yourself properly on that platform with good engaging content, properly formatted for that platform and with the right hooks and angles to appeal to the search engine and your customer.

For example, the chief executive of a bank will feel he or she needs to be in the Financial Times if they have something to say. Of course, that is true. But if the CEO wants to talk to the bank’s customers why not be in GQ talking about new investment opportunities or in the lifestyle pages of the Times sponsoring an initiative in the arts? That will attract Google’s search engines far more effectively than the behind-the-paywall FT and thus communicate more effectively with the high net worth target audience.

When a prospective client finds a bank or a law firm on Google they so often come to a website that is static, grey and traditional and yet the millionaires of today, the new business gurus, are young, with it and understand communications like never before. Even if they have inherited their fortunes, they want their service providers to be 21st century and feel proud to be associated with that brand. Stuffy just won’t do.

That does not mean abandoning all the things that have made these professional services successful in the past. After all, you don’t want to lose the old customers. You need both new and long-termers. It is about evolution, not revolution.

Videos on a website, attractive imagery, expert views are all valid whatever the age of your customer. True it is important to get the tone right but unless companies move with the times, the communication revolution will leave them behind.

So many companies we have met have a split personality. The new, young, staff who will be the future of the company understand 24/7 communications and technology; the senior staff live in a status quo that makes them feel safe. They can point to successes of the past and thus if a new junior executive suggests a “riskier” approach, they can destroy his argument before it gets off the ground.

Many of those firms are now trying to play catch up having found competitors have modernised, their young talented staff have constantly been moving on and they are trapped by their past glories.

The beauty of modern technology is it doesn’t take long to turn this boat around. The communication levers can be pulled very quickly. The greater challenge is getting the staff to adapt so that the contact with the outside world also reflects the dynamics of what goes on inside the company.

Greater transparency, more inclusion, engagement with all the stakeholders, pride in being cutting edge… it sounds like a great comms plan doesn’t it? Well, it should also become the philosophy for the office, shop floor or boardroom.

Only then will new young business flow in through the front door… sorry I meant the user’s search engine.