Edelman appoints Hutton global boss of consumer marketing, expands faster into creative, media, digital

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 30 September 2014

The transformation of Edelman from a classic PR company to a legitimate challenger of global media, creative, digital and content agencies took another turn overnight when the group’s Australian CEO Michelle Hutton was appointed the London-based global chair of Edelman’s single largest revenue unit, consumer marketing.

And in a real twist, Edelman’s new Australian CEO to replace Hutton has no conventional pedigree in PR, crisis management or corporate reputation counsel. Incoming CEO Tim Riches is currently managing director of Designworks, a division of Australia’s biggest communications group STW.

Hutton acknowledged it was an unconventional appointment but was not concerned about Riches' lack of PR pedigree. “We have enough of them in here already,” she told AdNews.

Hutton has been a pin-up across the Edelman network, the world’s biggest independent PR firm, with her aggressive expansion beyond PR-related services into brand-funded content, creative, digital and production capabilities.

Hutton acquired digital agency Design Royale in 2012 and digital revenues now account for 30% of Edelman’s Australian practice - which has tripled in size under her watch.

Take marketshare from creative, digital and media agencies

Hutton starts officially in her new London-based role in the new year but has already set the tone.

“We want to elevate the role of PR to CMOs and gain share from creative, digital and media agencies,” she said. Edelman’s Ben Boyd, president for practices, sectors and offerings said Hutton’s “impressive growth” record in Australia made her the standout candidate to replace Jennifer Cohen who has been appointed president of Edelman New York. “[Hutton's] ability to integrate creative, planning, advertising, paid media and media buying makes her a natural choice for the role,” he said.

Hutton said brand marketers were increasingly open-minded about their agency partnerships and where ideas are developed and executed.

“More and more we’re going up against the big creative media and digital agencies and we see that as the new frontier. As do those new those agencies as well,” Hutton said.

“What we‘ve been able to achieve here in integrating digital across our traditional PR business is exactly what we are aspiring to do pretty much in every office in the network. We know our CMO partners in the marketing space are now looking for great ideas from a range of agencies. “

Attracting creatives and planners from hotshops

“You’ve only got to look at award-winning campaigns that are getting celebrated to see clients are buying ideas with a PR sensibility. We are attracting phenomenal creative talent from some of the really big hot creative shops around the globe and great planners. We’re building out these capabilities for marketing clients," she said.

“It’s not just having earned media campaigns now but trying new things like content. I don’t think you can do that as a standalone PR specialist. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who bring different skills.”

Hutton said the digital services which have driven much of Edelman’s Australian success included building branded apps and websites, managing online communities for clients, building content hubs, creating and executing paid media campaigns and advisory work on creating social enterprise capabilities and managing customer service through social channels.

Violent headwinds make ‘communications marketing’ the new thing

More of it is to come if Richard Edelman’s address a few weeks back during his induction into the Arthur Page Society’s Hall of Fame in New York is any indicator. He partly meshed up Unilever’s global position on the need for brand purpose with waning public trust, data analytics, storytelling and authentic new product development as part of the complex matrix of new capabilities which Edelman is building in a field he defined as communications marketing (as opposed marketing communications as it is currently known).

Edelman’s argument is that increasingly violent headwinds are challenging companies and brands in five ways: public, government and corporate trust; raging complexity, brands needing to act for the benefit of communities and the transformation of media and tech which irreversibly tie brand and reputation together.

Unilever: comms and marketing can’t be split to alter consumer behaviour

“This simple act of reversing two commonly used words [marketing comms to communications marketing] reflects a new environment where classic, image-driven marketing is giving way to a new focus on long-term relationships,” Edelman said in his address.

“Communications must be a full partner with marketing, beyond just building credibility to becoming the change agent. The value of 'communications marketing' is already being recognised by leading senior executives. Consider these words in a Harvard Business Review interview with Keith Weed, CMO for Unilever: 'In a joined-up, social, digital world, I don’t think that you can separate communications from marketing. If you do, you’re talking out of two sides of your mouth as a company.’ Consider what Unilever CEO Paul Polman told me last month: ‘One third of our sustainability plan of doubling revenue without raising resource consumption has been achieved by fixing our supply chain. Now comes the hard part, the other 2/3 of the change, to alter consumer behavior, to take shorter showers and use cold water wash’.”

Edelman said in his address this tough target would eventuate “only with superb, creative work. It is a false choice to say that our programs need to be substantive instead of brilliant. I attended the Cannes Lions for the first time this summer. What was clear to me was that the lines have blurred. Brilliant ideas can come from everywhere: ad agencies, digital firms, media buyers and PR firms. A great story will win if it is brought to life through powerful creative, with immersive live and virtual experiences and by leveraging the full force of earned, owned and paid media. We must be brave enough to make organisational and cultural changes, to welcome planners, digital and social media experts, creative talent, media superstars, developers and quantitative analysts who can do this kind of work. They will create the stories that are meant to be talked about in the socialised, democratised world, that give people a reason to engage with your brands on an ongoing basis. They will design apps that make it easy to participate in a brand’s future.”

There’s part of the grand plan. Michelle Hutton has a bit of work to do.

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