Accenture’s winning media strategy
Andy Rowlands would not call Accenture’s appearance on The One Show a career high, but, as the corporate communications lead for Europe would be the first to admit, the BBC’s early evening chat show is not a natural home for an information technology professional services company.
Accenture was introducing The One Show to the metaverse, demonstrating how the company last year onboarded around 100,000 new employees globally in virtual reality – introducing them to their new colleagues and the business.
Reporter Joe Crawley gamely donned the necessary headwear, allowing his avatar to chat with two Accenture executives in the company’s metaverse on its virtual ‘Nth Floor’.
‘Getting Accenture on The One Show never happens. Never ever, and it will probably never happen again,’ concedes Rowlands. ‘But the reaction that it generated internally was huge. People were proud of seeing themselves on that sort of primetime TV. It shows your relevance. It shows that we’re not just some company that nobody’s ever heard of.’
But the primetime spot also highlighted Accenture’s view that the metaverse is going be huge in the future, merging the physical and virtual, by demonstrating that the company is using the technology to show what it can do. It’s walking the talk, as they say.
There are also other benefits. ‘The talent market is strong. We want the best technology consultants to work for us versus working for our competitors. What does it mean to be a cool employer and an employer that people want to join? That’s also part of the story.’
Rowlands’ role has expanded in recent months and now encompasses Europe, but for the past two years he led Accenture’s UK-based media relations team to victory in the CorpComms Awards, picking up trophies for the Best In-house Media Relations Team.
Both entries from the five-person team demonstrated how they divided the responsibilities and workload, while working together to achieve results, and the 2022 entry even included a picture of a team meeting in the metaverse. ‘A team is only as good as the sum of its staff, so let’s unpick that,’ explains Rowland.
‘Each person is an important cog and I wanted to show that. It meant a lot [to win], because when you’re in-house it is difficult to spot the things to enter for awards because you’re just doing your stuff. If I have a clear problem, we’ll bring on agency teams to help us meet that need – and there’s a clear-ish solution or ROI.’
So, what does the day-to-day job look like? ‘It’s a pretty big organisation, so we do pretty much everything, every industry sector you can imagine,’ he explains. ‘But it’s trying to work out what’s the most important. Technology is a big part, so we have two people focused on that, and then there’s two people working on its application within industries. One person also looks after Accenture Songs, which is our marketing service division. I would do more issues and crises, and corporate positioning.’
Accenture is a global business employing more than 700,000 staff worldwide, including 350,000 in India making it that country’s biggest international employer. It produces a never-ending flow of reports and analysis but the trick, according to Rowlands, is finding the star piece that has an angle related to a topical issue.
When you’re in-house it is difficult to spot the things to enter for awards because you’re just doing your stuff. If I have a clear problem, we’ll bring on agency teams to help us meet that need – and there’s a clear-ish solution or ROI
‘Some of the content is quite dry and specific. It is very important to a certain client segment but from a media perspective probably not one that we might want to use,’ he says. ‘But a lot is also designed for a global market, so it is then looking at it from a UK perspective. How do we contextualise that global message so that it’s relevant for the UK media?
‘With all our research and commentary, we try to say So what? All this stuff is happening, but what does it mean? By trying to reinforce that, hopefully we’re making ourselves different to other organisations.’
A recent piece of research on banking trends produced the nugget that one third of Britons would rather do their banking in person, which has a particular relevance at a time of branch closures. It generated coverage across the board, including a rare front-page splash in the Daily Express. ‘That was based on a global piece of research, but we actually did supplementary research to give it an extra angle for the UK,’ he explains. ‘While it is an issue for our banking clients, there was a very clear consumer story.’
Rowlands and his UK media relations team have become experts in the art of diplomacy, knowing when to push back, but also recognising the value in local content, European content which provides a broader outlook, or a global story offering a bird’s-eye view of a specific issue. For the past three years, Accenture has also partnered with Standard & Poor’s, sponsoring its UK Business Outlook, which surveys a panel of 1,400 businesses across the manufacturing, services and construction sectors.
How do you speak about these big issues when you can’t talk about government policy, companies, or clients?
‘It asks about confidence, inflation, profits, hiring trends and gives us so many local angles that we can then use as an opportunity to bring in our Accenture content,’ he says. ‘Without that, it would be really hard to tell a story about the need to invest in talent or to look at a supply chain, all the stuff that we talk about, it gives that context. We’ve expanded the [partnership] into Ireland.’
The partnership provides Accenture with a voice on the issues that matter to business, because tactics like news jacking are virtually impossible. ‘We’re always apolitical, for a start, so that takes away a lot of the straight media coverage. We don’t talk about clients because they’re our clients. Cybersecurity only hits the headlines if there’s been a big cyber attack, which could be a client or a company we’re helping, so we don’t speak about those,’ he says.
‘How do you speak about these big issues when you can’t talk about government policy, companies, or clients? It’s a very fine line. It’s trying to find that market level of context data that we can play into that will give us a chance to get our experts in the right place. There’s a few, but you have to pick and choose.’
The monthly retail figures from the Office for National Statistics provide a perfect hook. ‘It looks at whether retail is up or down, so that’s straightforward. It’s an industry level issue, and it’s from the Government – the ONS – so we can quite happily comment on those real figures and say whether they’re up, down, good, or bad, and what that means in context to clients.’
Rowlands regularly reminds his team that there is a skill in getting stories into the media, particularly achieving national coverage. ‘It shows you have the radar for what makes a good story, and also how to package that story,’ he explains. ‘If it works for the media, it will work for every other audience, which could be through a speech or it might be social media.
‘The narrative you are creating – the stories you are spotting – don’t undervalue that skill set, because so many people in the marketing business world don’t have that. They haven’t had that refinement of having a journalist slam the phone down or ignore emails, the stuff we all go through in the PR world.’
But Rowlands claims he ‘gets it’ when journalists are rude. ‘I understand how frustrating it must be when you might have 200 other people phoning up and asking the same question about the same rubbish piece of non-specific story,’ he says. ‘But don’t just leave it to the junior people to talk to journalists, because it is actually one of the most important parts of your job. It should be as much my job as anybody on my team to know journalists, know what they’re after and know what they want.’
He is not a fan of outsourcing the media function to agencies, where often it will the most junior person tasked with follow up calls. ‘They won’t know the answers; they’ll be Let me get back to you. I know some journalists who won’t speak to agencies, who say they’ll only speak to the in-house person because they will know what they’re talking about.’
Rowlands adds: ‘But ultimately, if you have a good story, then you don’t have to know the journalist from Adam. You can approach them cold, and they’ll still cover it, because it’s a good story. So, keep the good stories coming, and you’ll be fine; that’s not just from a media relations point of view, that’s from a corporate storytelling point as well.’
Having an ‘attuned radar’ also offers perspective on reputational challenges, as well as opportunities. ‘It is important that business does not just stick a press officer over there, where nobody speaks to it, but that it actually has a seat at the table, where it can offer advice and give a view,’ he says. Rowlands is personally ‘close to the centre of anything we do. It’s about looking at the implications, both pro and con, but I think we are very finely tuned about the reputational impact on whatever we do’.
But don’t just leave it to the junior people to talk to journalists, because it is actually one of the most important parts of your job
But like so many other organisations, the Accenture media relations team seeks to demonstrate the value of its work. On occasion, an article about its research may generate calls from potential clients looking for further information – an analysis of Open Banking prompted ‘five or six banks’ to call; ‘that’s brilliant, amazing, but it doesn’t happen very often.’ Or an MD might mention in the queue for coffee that their client found a particular article useful, which provides a welcome boost.
‘We do use numbers, stats and data. We track in terms of how much coverage we got versus our competitors, what topics [got coverage] and how prominent [an article was], et cetera, so there’s a bit of scoring that’s kind of based on an index,’ explains Rowlands. ‘But there’s also a case of what does it mean, what does it feel, the value that you get from The One Show, of somebody talking to somebody and giving a view of our coverage. There’s definitely a soft and hard impact.’
Accenture’s social media is run by its marketing team, but the media relations team posts all its coverage on an internal platform called Sprinklr, which allows colleagues both to see what is happening, and to share the content on their own social channels.
‘I think every PR person gets – I know I certainly do – a warm buzz when they see a story get a bit of attention,’ says Rowlands. ‘But I think [what also motivates the team] is that there is always something new and different with Accenture. We’re always changing. We’re always reinventing ourselves. We’re always looking at the next thing that’s coming, so it’s not about plugging the same content, the same stories, year after year.’
The metaverse, it seems, was last year’s story. The UK media relations team regularly met on Accenture’s Nth Floor during the early part of 2022, but less so as they started coming back to the physical office in London’s Fenchurch Street. ‘You can’t replace face-to-face,’ concedes Rowlands, who admits to feeling ‘discombobulated’ after half an hour in a virtual reality headset. ‘But I do think the experience today will be very different from our experience in five years’ time, as different technology comes along.’
Last year, few journalists were exercised by the subject of AI. Before the launch of ChatGPT in November, it was a slog to get coverage. ‘Over the past two or three months, anything that has got an angle on AI is of interest. We’ve had loads of enquiries,’ he adds. ‘But it’s not about coverage for coverage’s sake. [We look at] the subjects and topics that our clients face. It’s about the big topical issues that are constantly changing, the economic changes that affect how they use their talent and workforce and the technology that is coming through: what do you do with it? How do you do it? And technology, by its nature, is always going to be a new thing.
‘It’s about trying to position Accenture and, more importantly, our people as the experts who know how a client should take these things that are happening, these changes, and how they can navigate them and grow.’
As for his award-winning team? ‘They’re excited about what’s new around the corner in six months’ time or a year as well as, I think, just being a good team that enjoys working together and has the opportunity to make a difference.’