“It’s a slutty industry, really” Michael Frohlich admits to a roomful of Ogilvy’s youngest Account Management and Planning Fellows. Michael advised on how to succeed in PR as well as determining PR’s role today. Moving from agency to agency does result in promotions. But Michael didn’t get to be CEO EMEA for Ogilvy PR this way, nor by virtue of his humour. Rather, Michael knows how to read his audience.
We fellows are enamored with the possibility of creating work that will change the way consumers think. Michael reframed that goal. Our role in PR is to develop a brand’s unique place in the market. Success is determined by how much consumers believe in that story.
Everything we say about the brands we represent is scrutinised. Consumers even question information from friends and family, Michael warned, filtering out what seems irrelevant. Michael identified five behaviours critical to crafting a brand narrative that is relevant: thought leadership, reciprocity, bravery, timeliness, and community building.
These crucial five branding tools have to be consistent with what the business delivers. Without a deck or an ego, Michael explained that public relations is more nimble than traditional advertising because it is beholden to journalists. They are perceptive enough to see when your brand’s story does not align with its practices.
In communications, we’ve moved from deference to reference, and finally, to relevance. The days of humbly trusting our town elders are over; referring to traditional centres of power like the church or state is anarchronistic. Now, consumers are empowered to do their own research. Even Michael can’t predict the next phase of communication. However, his personal branding was as insightful as his assessment of the industry.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his greatest gift to us was his storytelling.
Days after Michael won Warner Resorts as a client in 2007, three-year-old Madeline McCann went missing from Warner’s resort in Portugal. Michael faced a PR disaster fueled by the press and public’s disbelief that an intelligent, affluent family could lose a child at a luxury resort. Michael learned to adapt, to manage client expectations, and, walking into Mark Warner’s office the morning after Madeline’s disappearance, in what could only be described as worst case scenario circumstances, he learned how to (tactfully) ask for money. Uncomfortable as it is, solidifying budget is part of effective client partnerships.
These days, Michael has earned his place amongst PR’s most respected leaders. He still takes time to chat to fellows. He told us candidly that he often mirrors his clients’ body language speech in important meetings.
No matter how smart you are, or how good you are at what you do, you have to be relatable. You have to know who you’re talking to. And that, for us, is the insight that only an expert practitioner can offer.
The cynicism that seems to pervade the industry hasn’t quite sunk in. Sitting at Sea Containers’ Cucumber Bar, free to pick Michael Frohlich’s brain, we were all conscious of just how lucky we are. We won’t sit in Michael’s chair any time soon, but if we aspire to, it will take as much grit as it will charisma.
Michael Frohlich @grumpyprgit is published in The Public Relations Handbook (Media Practice)
Blog written by Olivia Lloyd @Lloydjace Ogilvy Summer Fellow