The In2 Innovation Summit Asia-Pacific will take place on Wednesday 28 September, promising another high-level exploration of the disruption that is reshaping engagement and influence for brands and agencies.

The conference will feature an MSLGroup discussion on the 'new influence', looking at consumer engagement innovation with P&G's Nancy Liu and others. Ahead of the event, MSLGroup CEO Guillaume Herbette and chief influence strategist Erin Lanuti break down some of the forces that changing the very nature of public relations today.

1. What are the specific innovations that are changing how consumers engage with brands?

Lanuti: The future of public relations is being defined by innovations and technologies that build richer and more experiential forms of communication like virtual reality and simplify and improve brand engagement like Amazon’s Alexa and Dash button. Virtual reality in particular is a better way to build empathy and has enormous potential for a variety of uses in the public relations field.
2. How can brands better leverage these trends to drive real business results?

Lanuti: The more brands facilitate a silo-less approach to marketing, one where all marketing elements have a seat at the table and are encouraged to collaborate, the faster they will see results. A great example of this is the Conversation2Commerce platform we just built. We partnered with our colleagues on the advertising, paid media, digital and shopper side of the business to solve a singular problem... How can we realize the true potential of influence?

Our platform is meant to continually live in a constant state of beta as we seek new ways to harness the power of influence to drive brand lift and commerce. The variety of capabilities we combine are not just within the PR and advertising space, but media, shopper and deliver better targeting, better measurement and scale the entire capability.
In addition, to the channels and mediums we are also looking at the array of applications for the platform. For instance, we have created a variation of Conversation2Commerce for b-to-b and b-to-g initiatives. These services will be marketed under the Conversation2Credibility name. By expanding and targeting the reach of the most important messages to the right people at the right time, the platform strongly supports reputation management, executive visibility, employee engagement, corporate social responsibility, education campaigns, issues and crisis management and nonprofit communications, as well as consumer marketing.
3. How can communications drive commerce in today’s digital media ecosystem?

Lanuti: In the era of social and digital media, we at MSL believe there is a massive opportunity for communications to drive commerce. While earned content is the #1 driver of purchase consideration, affinity and familiarity, brands haven’t been widely harnessing its power to drive commerce. Earned content is often relevant days, weeks and sometimes years after it first appears. But while it delivers 7-10 times the ROI vs. paid media in media mixed models, the challenge has been that brands and agencies have never been able to capitalize on its true value by giving it scale and directing it to target audiences at key points of decision-making.

To build Conversation2Commerce, we worked together with the other agencies in Publicis Communications and Publicis Media by pairing MSL’s expertise in earned media and content with their shopper marketing expertise and performance media and measurement capabilities. By working together in this way, we were able to scale earned influence so that its impact is significant. Now, we can target it with precision, time it with accuracy and measure the business impact it has. The result is a breakthrough that allows powerful earned content to play a larger role in the marketing mix.
4. What are the implications for agencies, especially PR firms?

Herbette: Our new integrated structure at MSLGroup is a reflection of what our clients want us and need us to be. We’ve found that more than ever before, they need and expect integrated thinking and interdependent solutions.
Clients expect us to overcome our own internal barriers between the disciplines. They expect us to work collaboratively with colleagues from other disciplines. They expect us to overcome the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that is damaging to our abilities to service clients. They expect us to work together to find the best solution, whether that be in digital, or media, creative, or a programmatic strategy to amplify earned. Working together we can create great ideas, great opportunities and great solutions. It’s a new way of working, but it is designed in the best interest of our clients.
5. How does all this change the talent model at PR agencies?
Herbette: The definition of a PR agency is changing quickly. At MSLGroup and across Publicis Communication, we have taken bold steps forward to reinvent the structure of our modern agency with integration or interdependence at the holding company level and at the local market level. What this means is that in markets around the world, we have specialized PR professionals working closely together with specialists in creative, advertising, media, analytics, research and other capabilities, creating a holistic marketplace where these capabilities work together in a fully interdependent fashion.

The importance of working together with world-class experts across all the disciplines is more critical today than ever before. What matters less is whether the talent is considered part of the PR agency or ad agency or digital agency or media agency staff.

6. With all of these changes, what’s the biggest lesson for the client/agency relationship?

Herbette: Clients have been asking for integrated solutions, but agencies have been too tied to their old structures and processes. Yet, the best innovations come from looking at things from a completely different perspective. The C2C product, for example, is integrated by birth. It wasn’t designed just from a PR perspective, but from multiple perspectives, using the best-in-class tools from all the disciplines to deliver results that have could not have been imagined otherwise.

The learning here is that agencies need to push the boundaries harder and look beyond step change and safe innovation, especially when they have a willing client. Agencies should not be afraid to involve clients in the process of innovation and capture feedback during the process itself.

Limited places for the In2Summit are still available here