Recently, I saw the David Bowie film Moonage Daydream. Bowie said something that really landed with me, “never get comfortable”. Go into the water just a bit further than you think you can handle. Do you feel like you can only barely stay standing? Good. That's where you can do the most innovative things.
Europe is buzzing with innovation. Especially in tech. And certainly in Amsterdam – one of the global hotspots for startups, scaleups, and unicorns. These are companies born to tread water. They’re used to uncertainty and need flexibility, creativity and speed to thrive.
They need these same characteristics in their partners. But the pickings are slim in European agency land. You can go for a local boutique with speed and flexibility, or for an international corporate with clout and reach. It is difficult to find one partner for everything these companies need: all of the above, and PR, advertising and marketing services.
Feeling at home in the vanguard
I come from the PR world, but today a traditional PR specialisation, and having an extensive journalist network, isn’t enough to achieve success. So while I used to encourage my colleagues to really read the newspapers to grasp the context, draft content, and visit newsrooms, these days I encourage them just as much to delve into the latest developments in the likes of digital marketing, Web3, and AI.
Yet it’s also not enough for consultants to keep up with the latest tech trends. Because if you want to compete today, you have to be able to deliver on your advice. If you don't understand blockchain properly, for example, you can't achieve success with Web3 either. This is exactly why about a third of our team at Clarity globally consists of researchers and developers; enthusiasts who aren’t afraid to experiment and put their money where their mouth is. And we in turn share that knowledge with other tech marketers through our Finite community.
Well, in that respect, my advice to colleagues hasn't really changed that much over the years: make sure you are properly at home in digital matters and emerging platforms. And preferably be at the forefront, so you can help clients anticipate market changes.
Winning the battle for attention on two fronts
Responding to emerging opportunities doesn’t mean that traditional services are suddenly less important. Scale-ups and challengers need to focus on building and maintaining a strong reputation through communications, including with public relations, corporate communications, crisis and issue management, and public affairs services.
It's all important, new platforms and the tried-and-true, but how do you make the right choice for what your business needs to achieve?
As far as I’m concerned, the only choice is not to choose, and to engage in both vanguard and rear-guard battles for brand awareness. Not by using all channels, but definitely by considering all disciplines. Real magic happens when there is synergy between PR and marketing; when the audience is served with consistent messages, and all brand expressions have a unified purpose.
Unfortunately, I still too often see companies spending their ammunition on only one front. I see, for instance, that PR activities deviate from advertising campaigns, or that a social team with real feeling for their audience is counteracted by corporate communications that have lost that touch. To truly stand out from the competition, marketing and communications need to work together to tell the brand’s red thread story
Finding meaning outside your comfort zone
I understand the resistance to integrated communication. It’s easy to get stuck in your comfort zone; your own little silos. But, remember Bowie. Innovation does not happen while paddling near the shore.
For us as an agency, integrated work is also a change. Clarity was founded as a PR agency for startups, but now also supports established brands across the full spectrum of their marketing and communications needs. Here in Amsterdam, we’re also emphatically expanding into digital and creative services. And in this we are on the right track.
At the same time, I want to make sure we stay grounded. To not grow for growth's sake. Because then we will lose our sweet spot and become yet another corporate agency. No, we have to grow to offer added value. In doing so, our sights are firmly set on organisations that make a positive impact on society and the planet. That is where we can make meaningful contributions and grow together. Because I remain convinced that with positivity, fearlessness, and creativity, we can only strengthen each other further.
Daring and doing
This is my second year at Clarity as the Partner for Benelux, and I still look at my team in Amsterdam and Brussels with great admiration. There is so much quality, commitment, and enthusiasm. We work well together. And also very importantly: there’s a lot of courage. The courage to try and, in Bowie's words, be uncomfortable at times. That mindset delivers fantastic projects with great results for amazing clients. And we will continue to do this, while also investing heavily in expanding our services. There, at the sweet spot between paddling and treading water.
Reach out to Thomas here if you want to chat more about our Benelux marcomms services.
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