PR’s Top Pros Talk… Investing in Research
Laura Macdonald, Co-President, Hotwire
Why should communications firms invest in research? Laura Macdonald, Co-President, Hotwire, emphasizes the need for agencies to ditch the cookie cutter approach with the world changing so rapidly. She shares insights from the agency’s mindset shift from B2B and B2C to “Business-to-Human.” Laura also highlights the importance of having diversity of experience to understand and deliver insights most effectively.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: LAURA MACDONALD
DOUG: Your firm has done a tremendous amount of investing in research and insights. How critical is that today, both for a communications firm and especially one in the tech space?
LAURA: I think the world is ultimately getting so much more complex for our clients, and the companies that we talk to, and like their audiences, and shifting and attitudes around those, if you look at everything that’s happened in the last couple of years, the sort of Great Resignation. So, it’s not just who they’re selling to, but their employees themselves. The business needs, they’re completely shifting of the ways that we are working, what customers are wanting. And so, as the world becomes more and more complex, we’ve really seen the need to invest into research and insights to really dig deep into those problems and challenges. You have to root it not just in what used to work when the world is changing but root it in data and insights from today to really allow us to make the right bets. It’s not necessary, always decisions, but like, what do we think, they’re not just bets based on nothing, but bets made on kind of real research and insights that we’re going to be able to map the right path forward to help our clients solve some of the business challenges through communications.
DOUG: And it’s really interesting because sort of in the past you though of agencies having their secret sauce and here’s our approach and what we do. A cookie cutter approach doesn’t seem to work anymore, the times changing so rapidly.
LAURA: Its interesting, process is so important if you have that, and at Hotwire we call it “the Hotwire way” and it’s discover, plan, deliver, and improve. So, having an approach, I think is still really important, but it cannot be like our approach is, oh, you’re a consumer tech brand, therefore you do product reviews, you do this. The approach for us is always rooted in those, what are those business goals that you’re trying to solve. Recruitment, product sales, all of those, let’s go talk to those people that you’re trying to reach and really understand what’s happening with them and then use the right levers at our disposal. The right channels, the right methods, the right methodologies to go for that. So, process becomes even more important, but it’s not cookie cutter anymore.
DOUG: Yeah, and one of the types of studies you did was a Generation Alpha study which apart from being designed to make me feel even older, can you maybe share how you’re using it on the client side, and how it’s benefiting?
LAURA: Yeah, I think having been in this a while, when new generations come, it’s always like the world changes, and I think it’s changing more rapidly into attitudes and behaviors. So, part of the reason that we did the Generation Alpha study was part selfish because I’ve got Generation Alpha kids, so great to be able to better understand them, but part, they are going to be the next generation. They’re going to be not just entering the workforce, but being the purchase power, they are already having influence. And so, the more that we can understand them now, the more that we can make those changes that we know take businesses a really long time to change to be able to be more effective with their communications in the future. So, again, it goes back into that knowledge is power. The more that we know about the next generation, the more effective we can be.
DOUG: Yeah, that can also be a great parenting thing. If you tell your kids, look, guys, depending on what you do, you’re going to be in the study, so you better behave yourselves.
LAURA: If you watch one of the videos that we created for that, my kids are in it and unfortunately are incredibly badly behaved.
DOUG: I think that would be expected when it’s you doing the work with your kids, they’ll always put on their best face for you. You talk about Hotwire being less now of a B2B or B2C company. What is it, B2.. that’s replaced it?
LAURA: Yeah, we call it like “business to human” or “human to human”. I think, ultimately, it’s saying that everyone is a person at the end of the day, and in particular what’s happened in the last couple of years, it’s really hard to separate out the person who works for this certain company. From IT decision markers if you think about the B2B world through to a parent and a mom. And so, really recognizing and understanding that is so important. And then I also think the world has also shifted where you have big consumer goods companies. So, now having to talk about their technology and their supply chain because people have recognized that it has such a huge impact. So, these big consumer brands now need to talk about a “B2B” story, and then you also have traditional B2B companies, like many of our clients like Zoom, for example, that were B2B that are now being used by consumers. So, for us, I think we’ve been quite ahead of that of really thinking about the people that we want to talk to, the actual audience, and all the factors that that make them up and taking that approach versus, oh, you’re a B2B company, you need to be in this subset of media, I think that’s an old view.
DOUG: It’s also interesting that tech companies used to be okay, consumer electronics, and they’d be at the Consumer Electronics Show. And now so many different types of companies still are in tech. There is health tech, there is currency, financial tech, any type of vertical you put the word tech after. How is that affecting your business and, clearly, I would think that’s opening you to many more clients who need your help?
LAURA: Yes, I mean, from a business perspective, it’s been incredibly busy for us. I think that need to be able to talk a technology story has never been more important, and technology has become incredibly mainstream. When I first started, I remember moving in and wanting to go into technology PR, and everyone’s like, why? Why would you want to go technology full-time? And that’s what everybody talks about now. And so, I think having that level of understanding of, okay, we can go deep, we can talk about SD-WAN, and 5G, and NFTs, and all of those is really important to understand and have familiarity with the subject. But also think about it like, what’s the impact on the audience? What’s the actions that we want them to go take? And so, we’re talking about security and things, being able to talk about it from a what’s the impact to the end customer, the end consumer, even if you’re an enterprise security company, and you’re talking about ransomware, but from nation states, what’s the consumer impact? Because from a broadcast media point of view, that’s who’s reading to them, so you can give your customers a game of metrics piece. What’s the impact of me personally, and what do you need to do to protect yourself and protect your businesses?
DOUG: So, apart from mining your children for insights, how do you go about getting this research and information?
LAURA: Well, first, it’s about hiring the right people within our staff, so, we’ve hired research experts, we’ve hired strategy experts from different backgrounds who are really experienced about what are the right ways to go out and collect that data. So, again, it varies case by case, but it could be focus groups, it can be quantitative research, it can be qualitative kind of research, all of those coming together. So, for us, it was really like, let’s hire in expertise who’ve done research for big companies like an Autodesk and those kind of companies in-house, that type of clients that we have and bring them in, so that we can then make the right advice to clients about this is the type of research that you need to go need. And then the other side is the tech tools, right? We invest really heavily in our tech stack, so that we’ve got access to what’s ever happened in the media, the social media landscape. So, like different trends, we work with companies that are doing the trends forecasting as well. So, it’s combining our own research with all of the great data and data mining that we can do, and that’s why we hired experts who can really help us sift through all of that and come out with the recommendations.
DOUG: Yeah, that’s really important to have a good research approach.
LAURA: Yeah, absolutely. And people who do that day in and day out that want to work in partnership with us that can take that out and tell stories from that, which is where we come out of the traditional common lens.
DOUG: And obviously, your research and insights also get into diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is becoming an important part. How are you working that for your agency’s benefit, but also advising clients? Are there certain insights that you can share that might help others trying to make their organization more diverse?
LAURA: I think it’s really important to bring diversity of experience into your team, and I use diversity of experience in the broadest of senses because I think we’ve been doing a huge amount of investment, we are actually about to do our annual diversity report that will actually be coming out next week. We’ve really shifted the makeup of our team to be a more diverse team. And I also think it helps bring those experiences in to go back to what we talked about in the beginning, like the gut check, like the secret sauce stuff of an agency. If you’re now thinking of the broader sense of a broader audience, you need that diversity of experience, people who come from locations outside of Silicon Valley. People who come from a background in broadcast media or from a background in different areas who can be I might be the end customer here, and I’m not going to buy that, or I don’t believe you and really allow us to stress test everything that we’re proposing in almost like a mini real-life environment. So, for us it was really important to our team, which it now is representative of the diversity of the U.S. population. So, we have sort of 40% of our team are people of color. That’s really important, not just because it’s really important, I think from a DE&I, but if we’re going to go out and talk to people, which is what we want to do, we need to make sure that we’re talking to all people and not just in our little Silicon Valley bubble.
DOUG: That’s great, you’re talking to a lot of people here, and I’m sure they’ll really be appreciating the content that you’ve discussed, very helpful information. Thanks for being part of the show.
LAURA: Fantastic, thank you so much for having me.