The world is constantly evolving, and businesses need to adapt quickly and stay ahead of the curve to ensure success in the future. Nick Leighton discusses the priorities that marketing managers need to consider as they adapt to new challenges. He emphasizes the importance of talent acquisition and retention, the need to adapt to hybrid work environments, the evolving nature of marketing, the role of technology and AI, and the urgency of achieving net zero in business operations.
About the Guest
Nick Leighton is the founder and CEO of NettResults Middle East Public Relations, an award-winning Middle East-based public relations agency launched in November 1999 with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, and California. He has over 25 years of experience in media relations and marketing and has lived and worked in the United States, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. He has represented the public image of Fortune 500 companies, some of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world, political parties, and members of royalty. He is also a best-selling author.
About the Host
Abbie Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.
Follow the Podcast
If you enjoyed this episode, please follow PRGN Presents in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or any other podcast app. We publish new episodes every other Thursday. To have them delivered automatically and free of charge, just choose your preferred podcast player from this list, open the app, and click the button to “Follow” or “Subscribe” to the show: https://prgnpodcast.com/listen
Need to hire a PR firm?
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. No matter where you do business, PRGN has a member agency in your region with the deep industry expertise, international experience, and local market knowledge you need to connect with your target audience and achieve your goals. Find a PR firm near you »
From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.Abbie Fink:
And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.Adrian McIntyre:
Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.Abbie Fink:
For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.Nick Leighton:
My name is Nick Leighton. I'm the owner of NettResults Public Relations. We're based in the Middle East. We work with clients all over the world.Abbie Fink:
Nick, one thing we know for sure is that things are constantly changing. The business world, the things that are impacting us and what those changes mean as business owners and things that we need to consider today were different than what we thought about a year ago, two years ago, and we know for sure are going to be different than what we're going to be thinking about here in the in the future. As we're guiding those that lead businesses and lead marketing efforts on behalf of businesses, we’ve got to help them understand some of the priorities that they've got to take a look at. And maybe these conversations are a little more challenging than maybe a typical communications conversation would be. What are you thinking about when we're considering what these priorities might be as we're thinking about where we are today and where we hope to be in the future?Nick Leighton:
Abbie, you're so right. The current economic environment is unprecedented. We've seen rising energy prices, we've seen inflation, there's been supply shocks, and all these shocks have significant uncertainty for a marketing manager or for anyone who wants to be in charge of marketing. Those who make decisions today have to understand that the environment is changing rapidly. At the same time, buyer behavior has changed dramatically and that's probably due to COVID-19. Digital channels that previously were growing slowly have now expanded in popularity. I think the changes have significantly impacted both people who purchase things and the purchasing cycle, but also therefore those who have to market products or services. To survive in this new environment, we have to move very quickly. Let's just acknowledge that change is the only constant. As the world is different, a marketing manager or someone in charge of marketing has to now reprioritize what they do. When you know where you're going, that makes life easier. So, we need a plan. We've thought about how to do this, and we believe there are probably five critical success factors. The first, which overcomes everything, is what are you doing? And we'll come to that. And then ties into this, your team, how we actually market, technologies, and maybe we'll save the last one till the end, so it's a little bit of surprise.Abbie Fink:
I love surprises. You mentioned talent, and that probably, I would say that has always been an important element of your business is really the people you surround yourself with and what they bring to the table and how they will help you grow your business and your organization. But we know right now that talent is amongst the most difficult part of our business in terms of finding, keeping, making our business attractive to them. So, what do we do? How do we fix this?Nick Leighton:
Absolutely, yeah. People are talking about they don't want to work, quietly quitting has been this term that people have been throwing around for a few months. And as you said, it's really hard to find talent. So how do we counter these damaging talent drains that we have within the industry? First of all, we have to find the right talent. Just like business development, the best recruitment is always personal referrals. Building and nurturing your network is absolutely vital today. Of course, networking is different than it was before COVID, so take that into consideration. But most of all, you need to showcase your values so potential recruits can understand why working for your company is so really important. The second area that needs to be challenged is the job itself. Hybrid work is here to stay for sure, but how do we make it work effectively? How do we create a new set of cultures and norms? Companies that say we're going to go back the old way are missing a big opportunity. I think there's several things to consider when designing the hybrid work environment. First, we need to think about technology that will support it. This includes video conferencing, collaboration, project management tools, those kind of things. Secondly, we must create a new set of cultures and norms around hybrid working. That means being flexible with hours, providing team members with the tools they need to succeed, and that sense of community that really needs to be worked upon when people are working remotely. And then finally, we need to be open to new ideas of working methods. The old way of doing things will not work in the hybrid model. We need to be willing to experiment and find new ways that will be productive and successful. Companies that embrace hybrid will be well positioned to succeed in the future. Conversely, those that don't, that resist it, will be left behind. Now, there's a third area that I think is really important. There's a lot of innovation going on in this area, and that's around apprenticeships. Less of the more senior person teaching the younger person how to do things, but really a two-way training. There's an awareness of the value of the next generation and what they can bring to upskill more senior team members in an agency or in an in-house team. Finally, people are beginning to increase the self-authorship, if you like, of careers in which the individual can define their career path rather than relying on something which is written down, which is more solid. And I think you'll find that new employees in the workplace will get more engaged and more satisfied in the work if they are allowed to self-author their own careers. There's also one final thought. Consider it's different from a traditional full-time office environment. Even if you're a hybrid agency already, think about dispersed talent, which is a slightly different way, a slightly different word. We're used to hiring in our own location, wherever our offices are. We now have the global talent supply, so use that widely.Abbie Fink:
I really like what you had to say about self-authoring. One of the things I often tell soon-to-graduate college students is to write your own job description, and then see if you can find an employer that matches what you're looking for. And it's not, you know, use my skills for opportunity for advancement. That's not a job description. It's what do you want to do every single day? What are the types of things that really get you excited? Then, can you create that opportunity with the potential employer? I think your point there is that the employer has to be open to the idea of moving away from traditional job descriptions and thinking about what do we need to make our business successful? What does that person look like? What do those talents look like? And see if we can't cobble that together with a different structure than what we've been normally doing. I want to ask you to dive in a little bit more, if you could, on the culture aspect of what you've been talking about. And I think that's probably the thing that challenges us the most when we think about a hybrid or a dispersed workforce, is how we create that sense of belonging. We aren't meeting up for coffee in the same way, we're not gathering for lunch together. How do we address culture and still focus and help our people focus on the business strategies as well?Nick Leighton:
Great question. I think if we look at leaders in a department or an agency, in the marketing industry as a whole, those leaders used to be able to have one way of leading that worked for a local culture. Particularly if you're in one physical location, you don't really come across many different types of people. Now as that changes, you may have to expand how you work as a leader. I think there are probably 11 different leadership styles. Let's look at some extremes. If you want to be a visionary leader, that seems to work in a North American culture very well. You can give people a vision, people get behind that vision, they know where they're going, they move forward. Let's take something which is far more controlled, almost something that you'd see in a communist country where you're giving people orders that's far more controlling. Now that wouldn't necessarily work in a North American culture, but think about now if you have workers who come from that kind of a background, that type of leadership works better for them. So what I'm saying is we need to look at our talent pool and lead them in a way that works for them. How do we understand people? Often, you know, we can use communication or some kind of assessment to see what resonates with them. And I think it's really up to the leader to work a little harder to communicate in their voice rather than just have one voice for everyone.Adrian McIntyre:
It certainly speaks to the fact that global leadership skills are increasingly in demand. Cross-cultural communication, not only different languages but different working styles, are at the center of our work. When it comes to the marketing itself, the nature of that work has changed, and you've got this on your list of priorities. Talk a little bit about that. How do you get this work done? Get a little granular, if you will.Nick Leighton:
Yeah, absolutely. I might geek out here because this is what we love talking about. We love talking about marketing. A lot of us grew up in a stage where we learned about the five P’s: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, and we learned about this great big funnel, and that's how things worked. Well, maybe that's a little outdated now. So let's talk about marketing at that top level. We hear people define how the marketing funnel probably has multiple levels now. We talk about, you know, we can make this trendy. We can talk about TOFU, top of the funnel, MOFU, middle of the funnel, BOFU, bottom of the funnel. Sure, we can be cool like that. Then people kind of developed and they said, well, you have a marketing qualified lead, which leads to a sales qualifying lead. That's different. That's a different way of looking at it. Some people are actually dispersing the two saying really isn't a funnel from a marketing perspective. You gain listeners, people who are interested in your product. So that's lead generation. But then there's lead nurturing. It's two separate things going on. So I think it's time to look at what is that top level? What does marketing really mean? And that's really driven, as we said earlier, things like COVID, the way that we purchase products and services and the tools that we have available to us. So, you know, we could do a lot more research if we go and buy something. Let's think about it. Let's say automotives. 15-20 years ago, we'd go into a car dealership, we wouldn't know what car we were going to come out with. We wouldn't know what color they are, because it's whatever was available. And we wouldn't know what our price was going to be before, as we went in. I mean, that was all part of a negotiation and we just didn't have the information to do that. Today, if you want to buy a new car, you can go onto a website, let's say Tesla. You can choose the five things which are really super important to you because there's only five or six options. It depends on what region you're in, but in California where I'm sitting right now, I could put a $100 deposit down on Apple Pay, and Tesla will tell me when the car is ready to be delivered. That's unheard of, right? The amount of information. So clearly we have to market differently, but it's not just the automotive industry, of course, it's across the board of whatever we're selling. Consumers and business-to-business have this information at their fingertips. So how do we speak differently to that? How do we get people interested? How do we educate them? And how do we pull them in the traditional method all the way to the bottom of that funnel?Abbie Fink:
Buying power has always felt like the consumer had control but truly now they do. I mean, to use your car buying example, you can walk into the dealership and have exactly what you, you know, I know it costs this, I know I can have it in this color, I know I can add these add-ons and it's, there's the negotiation in that environment has really the power has really been given back, I think, to the consumer in a way that we haven't necessarily seen before. And it changes that dynamic between the business and the consumer, the business to the business, in terms of dictating what is appropriate and what I need to have. We're certainly seeing it in the relationships we're developing in the B2B sector, the professional services and such, in terms of what expectations are and how our prospects are telling us what they want and how they want it delivered. And I think they're demanding some things of the vendors and partners that they work with in a way that they haven't in the past. The conversations they're asking us, they want to align themselves with the business that thinks differently and thinks like they, in a way that is progressive and forward-thinking, in a way that might not have been there before.Nick Leighton:
Yeah, absolutely. And from a marketing perspective, how do we manage that? How do we, I mean, I talked about the problem, but I don't really give you a solution. Okay, so here's the solution, we have to get very close to the buyer. I think we know of businesses that are great at collecting information, that have the best client research. That's what I'm saying to a lot of clients that we work with, we have to spend time to get to know your client, get to know your buying behaviors and it's just essential to understand what the client pain points are so we can address that.Adrian McIntyre:
It makes me think that the old framework of AIDA, Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action is still relevant, but that top-level A, that awareness really goes both ways. And developing an awareness through content creation and feedback loops of what particular segments of your audience are responding to can inform deeper aspects of the funnel. It really is a two-way street.Nick Leighton:
Yeah, absolutely. And having that data so you know how your customers are interacting with you, how many times they've interacted with you, how they reply to an email, how they click on email, how much time they're spending on a website. All of this data is the most vital thing so you can actually sell to them at the right time.Abbie Fink:
Well, and using that data appropriately, right? Knowing what you have at your disposal and figuring out how best to do it. So yeah, so tell us, so we've got talent, we've got some of these other priorities that you've addressed, so share with us what's next. What else do we need to be thinking about as these changes are coming to us? We got to be willing to embrace them and do something with them. What's next?Nick Leighton:
It ties into exactly what you're talking about, technology. We're at the most exciting technological time, possibly the most pivotal time that I remember in my career, probably the most pivotal since Microsoft Windows was introduced. Artificial Intelligence has clearly revolutionized our industry. And while some marketing departments were embracing AI before 2023, the launch of ChatGPT in November ‘22 was really that watershed. But of course, that was only a few months ago. So if you're not on this train today, don't worry, the train has barely left the station. There are different AI options out there, and they will continue to grow, but we need to use AI in two ways. First of all, we need to keep the whole department up to speed in how AI is being used. That's using do's and don'ts. And you know, hit up PRGN. We have these sheets readily available to share with clients, and we have to keep learning the best practices of how to use this tool because it is changing so quickly. One of those critical elements of that is to make sure that we're not opening up our department to risk and ethical or legal implications. So how we use AI, that's really important. And then secondly is how do we bring improved marketing and how do we improve the efficiency of our departments using AI? There are many ways you could be using it right now. Obviously is a massive area. But I think this ties into everything else, because it frees up our talent for more creative areas. We can really become more efficient in how we do our jobs. I see this being a huge opportunity for departments today and over the next two to three years.Abbie Fink:
So we still need talent even if AI is making its way into the space. We still need incredibly talented individuals that doesn't replace it as an enhancement as I see it.Nick Leighton:
Absolutely. In fact, I think Artificial Intelligence is probably the wrong word. Let's talk about it as augmented intelligence. It's there to help you. It's just another tool. It will not take over. It doesn't have that agency that people are pretending they have, that it has, just because it's friendly. I mean, it is a tool that is very good at communicating. It is not a tool for making decisions. It can't do that for you.Abbie Fink:
I've been noticing quite a lot of updates to policies, in particular the media outlets that accept content, freelance writers and things, that are very, very clear that we do not accept AI-generated content, that, it has to be fact-checked and personalized and things. I was in a presentation not too long ago on this topic and the presenter said, you still have to have people that understand how to ask the right questions, how to prompt it correctly to give you outputs. You have to have someone that can review that output, add personality, right? I mean, it's, I love augmented is the word, right? It's a thought starter. It helps us get to a place that we might not be able to get to, but it cannot be the finish line. It just is a tool to get us in that spot.Nick Leighton:
Absolutely. And as senior people in the organizations, we need to police that. Even within our own agency, we actually put content through a checker to see how much AI has been used to create that content. And yes, you do get false negatives, but if we see it's rising, I mean, like a lot of agencies will have content creators all over the world and you can ask them not to use AI. But if you are stating your reputation as you submit content into a publication, you're saying, I didn't use AI, you better be checking it yourself to make sure that AI has not been used.Adrian McIntyre:
While the content aspects of AI generation have been dominating headlines, I'm firmly convinced that one of the most transformational applications of artificial or augmented intelligence is going to be in the area that you referred to earlier, Nick, which is the analysis of data and customer insights. Applications that actually use your first-party data and take all of these signals and are able to, at the level of n=1, make recommendations about what individual people that you have been engaging with your company need next in their buying cycle. So the AI-managed funnel process, taking marketing automation, if you will, to the next level is certainly very exciting. We covered a lot of ground here. What's left?Nick Leighton:
Okay, let's take it to the secret fifth area. I don't know if it’s that secret.Abbie Fink:
I like secrets. Let us in. Tell us.Nick Leighton:
Okay. Net zero. It remains a top priority for leaders around the world that are committed to an advanced, clean, sustainable, affordable, resilient, secure energy system. This is clearly a complex challenge, but it's one that we all need to be involved in and we need to address. Achieving net zero will certainly require a concerted effort from all sectors in society, government, business, individuals, everyone has a part to play in this. But if we work together, this is going to be possible. So let's think about that from marketing leadership. First of all, you need to be part of the solution of the problem. How do you make your agency or your department net zero? Let's just start with that. It doesn't happen overnight, but it is possible if your department has a strategy in place. Then secondly, how do we measure that? How can we measure that and be transparent about what we're doing in our own department, our own little domain? Because the measurement is the important element, because you will need to take that to a company level, and you will need to measure your net zero, your environmental impact at a company level. Because if you're not being asked for it today, you will be in the future from two different sides. If you work for a large organization that has institutional finances, you will be asked for this. And if you are business to business and you're selling into other large organizations or into governments, they will be asking for it. So get ahead of that curve right now. Net zero is an opportunity to make a difference, but also to get ahead of it. And if you don't do that today, it is going to be a problem in the future.Adrian McIntyre:
Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.Abbie Fink:
We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.