Unpaid pitching ‘a stain on our profession’ Icon CEO talks to Telum Media

Icon CEO, Joanne Painter, recently had a conversation with Telum Media where she shared her insights into the current PR industry, outlook for future trends and some advice based on her decades’ experience.

The talk begins:

You started Icon Agency in 2001 after 10 years as a journalist - what made you want to ‘cross over to the dark side’?
Life has a way of making decisions for you, and in my case it was having two young kids and wanting more control over my career and work-life balance. I'm still working on the latter but I am certainly happy with the career shift.

The agency started just a few years before social media and digital platforms really took off. Obviously Icon made it through for the better, but what were some of the challenges the agency faced as the industry felt their wait through a massive shift?
We were incredibly fortunate to have a cutting-edge digital team at the core of the agency. We were there for the first wave of the web revolution, survived the dot-com crash and so have deep digital experience and DNA. In fact, PR was an add-on to our creative and digital agency, not the other way around. So adapting digital and social into our core business was natural.

Your clients are a diverse bunch - chocolate companies to charities to transport. What’s the secret to attracting such a broad range of industries and producing a premium product?
It’s true we don’t focus on traditional industry verticals as we feel it’s somewhat old fashioned. Our focus is around leveraging integrated solutions across earned, paid, owned and shared channels for maximum impact. This EPOS model is particularly powerful in today’s multi-channel, multi-platform world. Also, industry definitions are changing and agencies need to adapt their models to suit. Take FinTech for example: is it a financial service? Or is it IT, professional services or even consumer?

You started in the industry way back in 1990. Let’s pretend it’s 2050 - what do you think PR will look like in another 30-odd years?
Communication will be increasingly personalised, targeted and 1:1. Big data will give marketers and PRs unprecedented insights into consumer needs and wants, while machine learning and AI will automate large portions of the traditional PR function. The demarcation between PR, advertising and marketing will be a quaint historical relic.

What’s been your favourite campaign you’ve ever been a part of?
Wow, that’s tough because each campaign stands out for different reasons. I love our recent (and upcoming) campaigns for Yarra Trams - Tram Coach - as the creative is iconic and very Melbourne. Our 2016 campaign for NSW Farmers, #StandUp4Farmers, was another stand out as it allowed me to combine my love of political influencing with a really inspirational campaign that achieved its goal. Then again, I think every campaign by our Creative Directors Rod Clausen and Ed Bechervaise, is special because they are about pursuing what’s possible, and striving for social good.

If there is one thing you could change about the industry, what would it be?
Unpaid pitching. It is a real stain on our professionalism. Imagine demanding your doctor or accountant show you their entire strategy before you hired them? PR leaders (and those in allied creative industries) need to assert a different dynamic with clients, one based on alignment, partnership and fit.

What advice would you give 20-year-old you, about to enter the industry?
Strap yourself in for constant reinvention, and invest in a broad education. The PRs of tomorrow will need skills and knowledge that are in their infancy today: data analytics, machine learning, psychographic profiling, augmented reality to name a few.

And something a little light-hearted - what's your favourite cuisine?
Thai - so fresh and simple.

Best way to wind down?
Gardening or bingeing on Netflix.

Coffee, dinner or drinks?
Dinner always - a lovely way to reconnect with friends and family, plus it usually includes a nice wine from the cellar!