PSFK chats with Jeff Beringer the Digital Marketing Innovation VP about new technology tools that are facilitating new kinds of brand conversations.
As part of our Future of Work Series, PSFK reached out to experts to get their take on the changes we’ve identified that are currently going on in the workplace. We recently chatted with Jeff Beringer, EVP of Digital Marketing Innovation for GolinHarris, about innovation in social media and the world of realtime communication.
How is instantaneous connectivity changing how you manage your workforce?
Yeah, good question. We have had to become much more collaborative in not just working internally with our own teams and different kinds of specialists, but also in the way that we work with clients. When we’re going from insight to action in a series of hours instead of days, we know the lines of communication have to be better inside our own walls, but those with our clients as well. One of the things when we first restructured the agency and focused on delivery of specialized services, we created internal knowledge‑sharing communities. Think of it as Facebook for business, but built around these different communities of specialists. So, our story tellers, for example, in one of our communities, all around the world can tap the brain trust of other people in those similar roles and all of our offices globally through these networks.
We’ve also built our own tools to help collaborate with clients faster and more efficiently. One of the most tangible manifestations of some of the changes we’ve been making, is something called the Bridge. The Bridge is a real time marketing offering. It’s a service offering from our agency that we pioneered a few years ago. As we began building out The Bridge and began working with clients in real‑time marketing assignment, one of the things we learned is that we can come up with as many great ideas and actual opportunities as you could imagine during the day. But if clients are equipped to react, approve, comment on the things we need to do fast enough, a lot of those opportunities can hit the cutting room floor.
How does this change the tools that you use?
We’ve developed our own tools. One of the tools, RT Manager, a real‑time marketing manager, essentially allows our teams on The Bridge and our clients to work together in a collaborative, web‑based tool to literally spot opportunities, track them, create storytelling assets, edit and approve those assets, and then track all of the activity over this over time.
Because real‑time marketing works best when it’s done systematically, over and over and over again. What our clients can now do is log into a single web‑based portal where they can monitor what their teams on the bridge are doing at any given time. The number of opportunities they’re tracking, the storytelling assets they’re creating, the people they’re pitching, the stories they’re placing, the content they’re creating. And see all of that in a dashboard view, and also be able to see what we need them to do.
What materials do we need them to approve? What spokespeople do we need them to help us lineup for a particular interview or a guest blog post or whatever it may be? So, we’re literally in some cases creating new tools to help with some of these very sort of streamline processes that make things like real‑time marketing work.
Is there any moment where people just get bogged down in the virtual aspect? Is there a human balancing act of the digital and the analog interactions?
Yeah. We’ve invested a lot in technology, not just text‑driven technology that allow people to share written communication easier, but we’ve also invested in tools that help our employees, even if they’re stationed at different places around the world, communicate visually better. As part of our restructuring, we invested in technology that allows all of our employees on any company machine with one click to begin a video chat with anybody around the world in our entire workforce. Almost a thousand people, those kinds of things have made it easier. We’ve also made sure that we haven’t forgotten to get people together in person, and we haven’t replaced high touch with high tech.
We often are conducting regional and/or global training sessions where we get people together in different specialized roles for really in‑depth training, for discussing issues, for development and incubation of new products in line with servers.
All of those things happen sometimes better in the real world than in the virtual world. Our approach is to use a mix of both technology and in person to make them loosen up for it.
How has digital tech changed the physical spaces?
Our offices, before our transformation, were like a lot of PR agencies where you had cube farms and people working in these siloed areas laid out in very conventional grid, cube setups. Now our offices are much different. They’re open spaces.
Our headquarters office in Chicago just moved to the John Hancock Center and our entire office is open from our CEO down to the interns that may be coming right out of school, everybody is in an open environment. The Bridge is at the center of this.
The Bridge has created a much more stimulating workplace because people are working in an environment where they have all the tools they need to do a very specific job all in one environment.
What have you noticed a difference in time, response rate or increased engagement?
In terms of response times, typical PR programs before the advent of real‑time marketing and service delivery vehicles like the Bridge, you’d plan a program oftentimes months in advance. Then, no matter what the conditions on the ground were on any given day, or maybe what the news cycle looked like or what people were talking about online, you’d execute those programs. Now our teams have much better situational awareness and the amount of time from planning and execution is collapsed from months to literally hours. Our teams start every day on the Bridge in the morning with a meeting that’s more akin to what you’d see in a newsroom.
It’s an editorial meeting where people that have specific beats that they cover, specific influencers that they pay attention to, specific topics they’re tracking online, they get together in the room and talk about what’s happening that very moment that could be translated into an opportunity for their clients.
A really good example of this is what we did at the Olympics with our client, Dow Chemical. During the Olympics, a journalist was out in the field watching one of the Olympic events, or getting ready to watch one of the Olympic events. He was remarking on Twitter about the interesting color and texture of the field itself, the synthetic field covering.
Well, it turns out that that product was made possible by a Dow innovation. Dow’s scientists and chemists came up with a really interesting fiber that didn’t break down when people play on it over a long period of time, and could add really interesting colors to it.
We spotted that on the Bridge in London from a mobile Bridge installation staffed by both us and our Dow client together, and we reached out to that journalist over Twitter through a DM and said, “Hey look, we noticed that you’re paying attention to that field and it’s pretty great. Would you be interesting in talking with somebody who literally developed the technology that made that field possible?”
Within a matter of minutes we were able to schedule an interview with the Dow scientist, who was on site, with this particular journalist. Turns out he was a reporter for the AP. Within a day his story that included a great interview with the Dow scientist ran in 200 papers around the world.
We can take advantage of opportunities a lot faster, than PR campaigns that work with a very static media list. These are the top 100 newspapers or help editors or technology reporters or so on that we want to tell our story to. Now we’re much more opportunistic in the way that we tell our stories. We’re looking for opportunities and we tailor stories based on what journalists are interested in at any given time or what, maybe in the news cycle, what people are talking about online. That’s a very big change in terms of how PR programs are planned and executed, and what the outcome looks like.
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