Christopher Yates: The Man Who Changed Marketing

It’s been more than 10 years since Chris Yates last gave a speech at a marketing conference. Back then, the head of Ogilvy UK sat on the panel with representatives from Wieden, J. Walter Thompson, and McCann, discussing the future of PR and marketing communications. The audience listened intently as they absorbed every word. Today, Chris is back in the limelight with a brand new role, a new book, and a new approach to helping businesses succeed.

Ten Years After, Still Influential

The speech that Chris delivered at the 2004 conference was entitled ‘The New PR and Marketing’ and was delivered in front of an audience of more than 600 professionals from across the industry. Back then, the concept of being able to track the performance of individual media placements was still relatively new. Traditional methods for measuring media coverage, such as newspaper clippings and television appearances, were limited in their capacity to showcase the impact that a marketing campaign had actually made. To make matters even more complicated, not all media channels performed equally well in terms of delivering traffic and leads to a business.

In the wake of this changed landscape, the speaker panel discussed a number of different topics, including the shifting consumer attention span and its effect on the industry, the rise of content marketing, and the evolving role of the PR and marketing agency. One of the most interesting topics of the day was the future of the PR and marketing campaign. The speakers unanimously agreed that a successful marketing campaign could no longer be boiled down to simply distributing branded content through traditional channels. For decades, PR and marketing had focused on brand amplification through traditional advertising and public relations, with the aim of driving sales and supporting the ‘natural’ growth of a business.

But in the wake of the information overload caused by the digital age, the industry needed to evolve to meet the informational needs of consumers. Rather than relying on traditional advertising methods, which rely on consumers seeing and remembering an advertisement or PR campaign, marketing campaigns now needed to rely on the power of an idea, product, or service to move consumers to action.

The Changing Role Of The PR And Marketing Agency

Back in 2004, most agencies still handled media planning and buying, with the exception of smaller enterprises that hired freelancers to cover specific projects. As agencies grew to encompass digital marketing and PR, they took on a broader remit to plan, execute, and analyze all digital media campaigns for their customers.

This required a complete shift in mindset. For marketers that had begun their career in the 1980s and worked in an agency for almost their entire career, this brought about anxiety and a feeling of being ‘trapped’ in an outdated role. To meet the evolving needs of their customers, many agencies had to update their skills and gain new ones. To succeed in this new environment, PR and marketing agencies that adapted and evolved flourished, while those that did not risk falling behind.

Content Marketing

While it’s been around for decades, content marketing is a term that was only really used by journalists and academics before the 2010s. Today, everyone from small businesses to global brands advertise on social media channels simply to engage with consumers and generate interest in their product.

As a result of this shift, businesses that want to succeed need to look no further than the content that they create to draw interest to their products and drive action. But the catch is that much like with advertising, to reach potential customers, businesses must now ‘buy’ the right to share their content with certain audiences.

Instead of focusing just on attracting customers through traditional means like advertising and public relations, which could be considered ‘paid’ marketing, content marketers look at the full media mix, including traditional and digital channels, to create content schedules, determine which stories will be most successful, and track the performance of each campaign. This way, they can determine whether or not to continue a strategic media campaign or shift gears and expand their digital footprint to reach more people.

Shift In Focus, Change In Tactics

While content marketing is a relatively new concept, the idea behind it has been around for a long time. Back in the 1980s, many businesses that wanted to succeed turned to public relations to help build their brand. But public relations is not a set of techniques, it’s a way of thinking. To move beyond mere brand awareness and generate interest and engagement in a business, marketers and public relations agencies alike turned to traditional advertising methods, which they had learned during the golden era of advertising in the 1950s and 60s.

These included billboards, TV commercials, magazine spreads, and the like. To meet the demands of this new marketing era, agencies evolved to become content creators and distributors, specializing in creating compelling media properties that attract, retain, and motivate audiences to action.

As a result of this change, the face of public relations grew younger and more tech-savvy. People born after 1980 grew up with computers and the internet, and they’ve transformed the way we all interact online. Those that came of age in the 1980s and 90s have grown up in an increasingly digital world, using social media channels to grow personal brands, follow the latest trends, and keep in touch with friends. As a result of this, today’s PR and marketing professionals are comfortable using digital tools to reach audiences and track the results of their campaigns.

Despite this shift, some agencies still follow the traditional route, focusing on media buying and planning, and waiting to see how an ad campaign or public relations campaign performs before making adjustments.

Brand Audit

To determine the effectiveness of a digital marketing plan, businesses first need to set a benchmark, regularly reviewing and measuring the performance of their ads and other digital marketing efforts against key performance indicators (KPIs).

These include things like sales, traffic, and engagement. To measure these things, businesses turn to something called a ‘brand audit,’ a process that first started back in the 1980s but didn’t become widely adopted until the 2000s. A brand audit is an evaluation of a brand or product that measures the strength of a brand’s existing awareness, familiarity, and appeal among a specific audience. The process involves analyzing social media accounts, forums, and blogs to see what content and conversations are occurring around a business.

Once a brand identity is in place, businesses can better target their ads and adjust their strategy to drive more leads and sales to their enterprise. A brand audit also helps businesses see if there’s any verifiable pattern or trend that can be attributed to the brand’s marketing efforts. A strong brand identity coupled with a consistently high brand awareness among a target audience indicates that marketing efforts are bearing fruit. Knowing what drives sales and leads to action enables marketers to precisely pinpoint the kinds of content that will produce the best results and allows them to continuously refine their strategy over time.

The Takeaway

Based on what we know today, Chris Yates’ 2004 speech, ‘The New PR and Marketing’, would still be regarded as one of the most influential in the field. In the decade since, Chris has continued to evolve and grow his practice, specializing in helping big brands and ambitious entrepreneurs build thriving businesses.

Though traditional advertising channels changed, the need for a strong brand identity, frequent media touchpoints, and engagement through social media still pervades the industry. This puts Chris’ decade of experience as a marketing executive in a unique position to help businesses both large and small find their feet in this brave new world of marketing.