The most successful organizations will be those that spend most of their time focused on the future, says Ray Day, Vice Chair at the Stagwell Group. COVID digitally transformed and disrupted the world of communications and forced everyone to learn new ways to prosper in the digital era. Ray emphasizes the importance of implementing digital as a strategy not a tactic.
The role of communicators has never been bigger. Organization leaders need to strive for end to end digital transformation in order to thrive in the new normal. Ray urges communications professionals to embrace the mindset that new technologies will help them do their jobs more effectively and effectively, not make their jobs obsolete. A future mindset is the best thing that communicators can bring to their organizations or their clients today.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: RAY DAY
DOUG: Ray you’ve talked about building the agency of the future for the future of communications. How is that changing in this time of COVID?
RAY: Number one, thank you for the opportunity to be part of this series. I love this series and I love any series that talks about how do we take communications in this profession that we love to the next level. So I applaud all of you for making this happen. But just think about as we entered 2020 where communications was, the world of communications both in-house and on the agency side. We were in an inflection point, and then you add what happened in COVID. I think the biggest change that COVID has been responsible for from a communications standpoint is in digital. You just think about digital transformation, and you think about where business was, where us as communications were, where agencies were in early 2020, and where we are today. The thing that COVID has done is digitally transform all of us. We kind of enter 2020 thinking there were some businesses that were still analog and they could probably get away with it; they could make ends meet and sneak by doing what they’ve always done – that’s no longer the case. With digital disruption that we’ve just been through everyone’s been disrupted and everyone now has to learn to not just survive, but thrive in the digital era.
DOUG: And that is one of the buckets that the Stagwell Group is involved in. I know you have 20 companies that participate as part of the Stagwell Group. Can you maybe share a little insight about the organization itself?
RAY: Yeah absolutely. in the early part of this year I was talking to several different entities about what I was going to do next, including a couple of agencies. And I was speaking to a couple traditional agencies, and when I was speaking to Stagwell Group, and what really intrigued me about Stagwell is I’ve been passionate about being part of the future. When any time I’ve gone into a communications organization or a company I always like to ask people how do you spend your time. Do you spend your time firefighting and focusing on today, and what percentage of your time do you spend preparing for how the world is going to be three to five years down the road. And that’s what really impressed me about Stagwell. It really is a group of 20 agencies all born in the digital era and passionate about the future of comms, the future of marketing, the future digital. So Stagwell is a group of 20 agencies that are doing, have done very well. They’re all founder led in double digit organic growth. And these are companies and agencies that are working with the Fortune 50 to Fortune 100, and they’ve come together in the last five years as a Stagwell entity. And unlike some of the big holding companies where you see competition and kind of infighting in the name of the game, Stagwell is a group of 20 agencies that are complementary, and they all complement each other, and that’s really one of the opportunities that I have as I come into Stagwell is how do we take one plus one equals three and combine the different expertise of these agencies to be a greater solution to clients. So the four buckets of expertise of the various agencies are one is digital; deep expertise in digital transformation. When I say digital transformation I’m speaking not just about making digital marketing, digital communications. It’s working with the CEO and the top leaders of some of the most iconic companies for end to end transformation.
DOUG: So if I can jump in there on that. When you’re working with top leaders, and I think COVID is obviously been accelerating that change and the planning three to five years ahead that sort of instantly upon us. What’s the best advice you’re giving leaders of these organizations you work with about the end to end transformation that’s needed maybe you can share some of that with the group watching right now?
RAY: Yeah I think first and foremost it’s to make digital be a strategy and not a tactic. It’s not something you do, but it’s to step back and to think about your business today to think about is it siloed, or is it digitally integrated. To think about your digital infrastructure. Do you have the infrastructure either I.T. infrastructure, or your workflow, the way you work to allow a digital strategy to connect everything together.
DOUG: How quickly can that be put in place?
RAY: It’s all about investment. You’ve got to make some investment. You’ve got to make investment in the digital tools, and you’ve got to make a conscious investment in changing the way people work. You can’t just take digital tools and put them on top of an analog way of working and expect magic to happen. You have to change the workflow, you have to change the process within the company. So when we talk end to end, if you are prepared to change the investment, to change the way people work and to change the culture and what we often see is, we often advise companies is it’s not at the working level where there’s resistance or where there’s kind of a lack of mentality. It’s really at the middle leadership. And you really have to work with the middle leaders. You can’t have analog leaders meeting digital troops.
DOUG: So these mid-level leaders, is that sort of a challenge is part of it that they think they’ll no longer be needed in this new dynamic, because there is a concern and people have resistance to change. I think COVID really broke through that because it forced such extreme change on everyone in the moment, sort of opened the gates for dramatic changes in communication across the board. But why don’t you give us your take on if you’re a middle manager how do you navigate that?
RAY: It’s a little bit of a mindset, you know. I always like to ask people what do you think about A.I. And you get one or two answers. You hear people who say well A.I. is going to take away my job, but then you hear the more progressive thinkers that say A.I. is going to help me do my job more efficiently and more effectively going forward. And I think the latter is the mindset that we all need to adopt. A.I. is a tool to help us all get better. A.I. is going to change all of our lives, all of our jobs, but that’s really where you think of digital transformation. You have to change the mindset and then for a lot of middle managers and frankly for all of us it’s about reskilling and retraining. You think about wherever we all are today, the half life of a skill is about three to five years. So that means we have to constantly reinvent, we have to constantly reskill and that’s really where the opportunity comes up for these middle managers. It’s just reskilling and there’ll be a certain percentage of them that they can’t reskill, and they may need to move out, but most people with proper reskilling, the proper mindset, the proper cultural mindset they can move full thrust into digital transformation.
DOUG: That’s exciting. You worked in a leadership role for 28 years at IBM and for the last two navigating change, how is that informed you about what the changing role of the agency has to be to best serve their clients in this new environment?
RAY: Yeah absolutely, and I think one of the opportunities, I was 30 years as you point out in-house as a buyer as a user of agency services, so I knew what I liked, and I knew what I didn’t like, and that’s what really gave me the passion to go to the other side. And I know that communications is changing. A couple of things about communications, I think communications today, communicators have never had a bigger seat at the table. Our role, our importance to a company and organization has never been bigger. On the flip side our role has never been more complex, and the role of our companies has never been more challenged. So you put all that together, and communications is changing then you add onto that the consumer. The consumer, and how they consume information, how they communicate is changing exponentially. So you think back how do people consume information in the last three to five years, then you have to have a point of view, how are they going to consume information in the next three to five years. And that’s really the most important discussion that agencies need to have is not keep people in the status quo but help companies, help leaders move to the future.I always like to say that I think the most successful communicators, And I think the future of communications is digital, it’s mobile, it’s measurable, and it’s engaging. And you have to be digitally savvy, you have to know how to be mobile savvy, you have to know how to measure because you can’t do those first two if you’re not really data based, and when I say engaging I mean both from a content standpoint and from a stakeholder standpoint. You just think about what COVID has done for employee communications in the last six months, there’s a whole different playbook in a whole different need for engagement today. And again that’s what I mean about this future focus and this future mindset, that’s the best thing an agency can bring to a client today. It’s that future mindset, that future advice and that future expertise.
DOUG: I’d recommend agency leaders watch this video and hear what you have to say because obviously you’ve been following that path to achieve your success. Thanks so much for being part of this discussion.
RAY: Thank you. Thrilled to be part of.