Peter Fuller is Managing Director of FULLER, “South Australia’s leading integrated brand communication agency”. Peter founded the company in 1993 after a career in rural and regional newspaper journalism and shares some of his PR journey below …
You’ve been in the communications industry for more than 20 years. Aside from social media and the ‘digital revolution’ what are some of the major changes you’ve witnessed in communications agencies?
I realised early on in my agency’s development that I didn’t want to offer media-driven PR as the only solution for the complex marketing and communications needs of clients. Integration was a strategy that was being adopted in the US and UK – mainly ad agencies absorbing PR agencies – and it appealed to me as a way to manage the changing media and communications landscape.
When the digital era started with the advent of Google in Australia
in the early 2000s, we had already established a culture of innovation
So from the late 1990s we expanded from our base of corporate communications to offer a visual element through high-end graphic design; we entrepreneured major events such as conferences and workshops to communicate directly with target audiences; and we diversified to custom magazine publishing in sectors such as wine and regional tourism, retail and business.
When the digital era started with the advent of Google in Australia in the early 2000s, we had already established a culture of innovation, so it was natural to embrace web development, apps and other new channels.
In the past few years we have invested in video and podcast content creation and digital marketing, the most exciting changes I have seen in the industry in 25 years. We now have the flexibility to create and distribute stories, videos and info-graphics globally in a very targeted, measurable way.
I see many agencies struggling to adapt to the changing communication landscape. Most continue to define themselves as PR/communication agencies or advertising agencies or design agencies or more recently digital agencies. There’s nothing wrong with that specialised approach and I am not critical of it – we just like to deliver an integrated solution that works best for our clients.
What changes have you noticed in the consumption of news media, and what pressures might that place on today’s PR profession?
The decline in print readership has been the most significant change in the past two decades. While print media companies have stabilised the downward circulation trend with their online editions, research shows we are heading towards a media environment where mid week newspapers may disappear and this will reduce the chances of a PR-initiated story to be published. TV is also struggling with the introduction of live streaming which means TV news opportunities for PR will continue to tighten. Radio, regional newspapers and niche magazines continue to defy the traditional media decline and will still offer opportunities.
The decline in print readership has been
the most significant change in the past two decades.
The implication for PR is that with media advertising declining and ABC funding tightening, there will be fewer journalists and it’s likely they will rely more heavily on leads from PR agencies. Due to this economic outlook for media, there will also be an increasing blurring of the lines between paid content, PR and news that may work in favour of PR practitioners. The sort of advertorial published or broadcast by mainstream media today would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Do you think it is worthwhile for a PR practitioner to be a specialist – say, in media relations or digital media or crisis management – or does today’s practitioner need to be a generalist?
Before thinking about specialisation PR graduates need to spend a few years establishing themselves as solid, reliable and credible practitioners. Many of today’s PR and comms graduates are short on the traditional basics: they are taught at uni how to write a comms strategy (which they won’t need to do for at least five years) yet have trouble constructing a lead or a headline. Their writing lacks crispness and accuracy and too few graduates are taught to consume media – they don’t read newspapers every day or watch TV news bulletins or listen to radio news and talk shows. Ironically, as a digital generation they also don’t have a great insight into the future of communications – a weakness of the courses they study.
Graduates who get jobs with us are curious – they have often worked in media after leaving university (regional newspapers and radio are a great training ground), they have probably had their own blog or contributed to an online lifestyle magazine, they know their way around WordPress, they travel and read a lot, are active on Twitter and LinkedIn and understand that Facebook is about more than cat videos!
As a company the most satisfying work is where
we achieve lasting behavioural change
After establishing a professional, multi-faceted foundation – possibly after four or five years – then our staff are encouraged to seek a specialised direction perhaps in content creation or corporate comms or digital marketing or account management.
Can you tell us about a client campaign you’ve enjoyed working on?
Personally I have worked in wine communication for much of my career and I am proud of the work our company did in the 1990s and early 2000s building the Australian wine brand internationally and establishing recognition for regions such as the Barossa.
As a company the most satisfying work is where we achieve lasting behavioural change with a target audience. That’s why we always take an integrated approach where a smart strategy, good writing, creative design and innovative use of digital marketing as well as PR combine to deliver a cost effective result – the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Our last PRIA national award was for a significant change we achieved in the way irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin improve their practices to save water and the environment – a big picture campaign. Yet we have also made a measurable difference on small budgets – to the sustainability of regional aged care complexes, small businesses, local government and member-based organisations. It’s all about developing the right strategy and encouraging the client to stick to a disciplined plan.
You are a Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. What have you gained from PRIA?
I joined the PRIA in 1993 when I started my agency and the annual conferences and seminars were very valuable in expanding my knowledge of international trends and best practice. The PRIA plays an important professional networking role for graduates and young practitioners and supports in-house consultants in government and business who tend to work in isolation.
As FULLER is an integrated agency we seek out a wide range of communication professional development these days than just those offered by the PRIA – the Communications Council, Mumbrella 360 and other specialised digital workshops. But we still support the PRIA and believe in its value.
What’s it like working with family?
It’s very rewarding to see FULLER move into the second generation under the leadership of Will as Agency Director and Olivia as Agency Manager – I have enormous respect for their abilities and their thirst for innovation. It has also been terrific to have my daughter Kate return from overseas as Content Marketing Manager, bringing her experiences from the USA and UK to Adelaide. When my wife Kathryn and I started the agency in 1993 we had a lot to learn about business management and through constant innovation we are handing on a company that is agile, creative and resilient.
As a family company we also spend a lot of time talking about values such as respect and integrity, trust and teamwork and that has been rewarded with our high retention of very good people and the development of a senior team of talented professionals to help take the business forward.