The world has evolved from the information age into the conversation age,” says Renee Wilson, president of the Northeast region, MSLGROUP. To leverage this shift, the agency rebranded itself in 2010 as a “communications and engagement company with a history in public relations” and a significantly broader agenda: be its clients’ most trusted advisor and source for unbound creativity and value in the conversation economy. The diversity of MSLGROUP’s offerings is evidenced by the fact that along with planning, strategy, execution and content creation, it purchases $30 million a year in paid media, not typically the bailiwick of your average PR agency.
A brief look at MSLGROUP’s numbers shows what goes into all this. In the U.S. alone, the agency has 750 employees, and 3,200 around the world. It operates 95 offices in 28 countries and has an affiliate network that gives it a presence in 83 countries. Its deep reaching experience is the foundation of its 34-year-plus relationship with Procter & Gamble, for whom the agency represents some of its top brands around the globe. Factor in Microsoft, PayPal, Coca-Cola and Heineken, and you can see that the agency has a voice in some of the biggest consumer conversations in the world.
Today’s complicated media and communications environment has given MSLGROUP the opportunity to lead its accounts. It is more plugged in to the C-suite than ever, as even senior-level marketers don’t always understand what’s possible today. That’s why, according to Wilson, clients are looking to PR to take the lead. “Marketers want strategies based around real-time engagement,” says Wilson. “What used to work a year ago, six months ago, is not going to work today. We’ve changed how we’re operating.”
It’s not as though MSLGROUP woke up in 2010 and decided to expand its focus. This effort has been going on for the past decade. “Our credo,is ‘Be boundless,’ and we are boundless in terms of channels,” says Wilson. She cites how seven years ago the agency started putting together an influencer database, now 20,000 strong around the world, which today helps it reach key communities in areas such as automotive and fashion and beauty.
As social media has grown, it has become a vital part of MSLGROUP’s approach with clients. Today, approximately 40 percent of a typical account is focused on digital, compared to five years ago when that number was a mere 5 percent. This allows the agency to be nimble and help its clients react quickly and effectively to marketplace events.
Consider the opportunity MSLGROUP created for its client Amstel Light simply by being a part of the conversation around the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup. Following their win, the Boston Bruins celebrated their victory at the Foxwoods Casino, where it was widely reported that the team ran up a bar tab of $156,679. Amid the lengthy, itemized bill was an order for a single Amstel Light. MSLGROUP issued an open letter to the team congratulating them and offering to reward the player who had the good taste to order the Amstel. The letter was re-tweeted by CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell and it ultimately became a top-trending topic on Twitter, generating 264 stories in the media and close to 100 million media impressions.
Today, MSLGROUP looks for ways to help brands join the consumer conversation by building relevant communities, whether they are in-person, mobile or virtual. For the retail fashion brand, maurice’s, MSLGROUP launched the “Mobile Style Club.” Members of this community receive two to three text messages a month with mobile coupons and other perks. Membership has grown at a rate of 5,000 new participants per month. “The Mobile Style Club has driven millions of dollars in sales,” says Webster Lewin, MSLGROUP SVP, director of digital innovation and strategy. For the agency, that’s the reason social media and digital are at the forefront of any opportunity.