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Client Spotlight: With Karen Coleman, Managing Director, Archetype

Client Spotlight: With Karen Coleman, Managing Director, Archetype

Despite the Coronavirus (COVID-19) uncertainties, Karen Coleman, managing director of global strategic marketing agency Archetype is optimistic about the year ahead.  Coleman, who leads the company’s operations in Australia, highlights three key areas of focus this year: Communications Strategy, Brand Strategy, and Digital/Social Strategy. They are part of her bigger roadmap of crafting campaign messages that impact the broader business goals of clients.

She says: “This year is all about us getting more ‘upstream’ in the conversations with our clients and more focused on business impact, and less focused on piecemeal execution.”  However, she points out that moving forward, Archetype needs to be willing to decline business that does not fit this model, so that it can evolve as an agency.

Coleman is no stranger to evolution – she has transformed the Archetype team from having a siloed to a fully integrated marketing approach, and has diversified her team’s services and skills to become a full-service marketing communications agency. Over the past 15 years, she has worked across the B2B, B2C, property, eCommerce, and consumer markets globally.

“My belief is that if you set a business up to address the trends you’re seeing globally – but may not have hit your local market yet – you’ll be in a powerful position once the switch flips,” she advises.“Bring in new thinkers that shake up your teams. Work with clients that you’ve never considered before in new industries and encourage your teams and clients to go beyond what they thought was possible,” she adds.


What are your top communications priorities for 2020?

Over the past 18 months, we’ve invested heavily in our Strategy and Creative divisions to ensure our campaigns have insight-driven creativity at their core. These investments have allowed us to build three key areas of focus for the business in the year ahead:  Communications Strategy, Brand Strategy and Digital/Social Strategy supported by flawless end-to-end execution. With storytelling in our DNA, our teams see the bigger picture of how carefully crafted campaign messages impact our client’s broader business goals.

This year is all about us getting more ‘upstream’ in the conversations with our clients and less focused on piecemeal execution, and being more focused on business impact. For this to be successful, we need to be willing to turn away business that does not fit this model and continue our evolution as an agency. Encourage your teams and clients to go beyond what they had thought was possible.  While 2020 will no doubt be a year of change, agencies that stay true to their vision and key priorities will weather the storm.


What are the top three challenges you can foresee this year?

1. Nurturing talent to keep up with evolving services: As PR and marketing take a more data-driven approach, and media and PR budgets get reallocated to areas such as content and digital, we need to look at how we can upskill our people and bring in new thinking so that we can deliver these services seamlessly. Content continues to grow but creating stand-out content needs to be part of a broader content strategy. Traditional PR content also has changed – it’s no longer just talking-head videos and case studies, it’s now illustrations, animations, short video series, etc. Finding excellent talent to deliver these services and upskilling your teams is tough and on top of that, you need to add in the continued growth of salaries. It’s a balance and agencies must also ensure they are costing these new services and talent in a way that is profitable.

2. Project versus retainer model: Over the past two years we’ve seen our agency go from 100% retainer to a 50%-50% split. While it’s great to have projects, which allow us to be at our most creative, it’s also difficult for businesses to forecast and structure the agency accordingly. This model comes with a new set of considerations around hiring, pricing, partnerships and forecasting.

3. New ways of pricing & structuring an agency: Agencies that continue to evolve their services also need to evolve their pricing models and company structure. With clients now looking at ‘outcome-based pricing’, agencies need to be willing to adapt to this and also be open to new ways of billing, pricing and resourcing. As services slowly change, the talent needs are different so we’re looking at new ways of hiring – having full-time freelancers and resource sharing will become the new norm.


Client Spotlight: With Karen Coleman, Managing Director, Archetype
Karen Coleman (centre, in red) with her team at Archetype. (Photo courtesy of Karen Coleman)


How has the communications industry evolved over the years?

Where does one start with this? It was completely different when I started over 15 years ago, which makes this industry so exciting and unique. The events we hosted ten years ago would attract around 50 media, there were no ‘influencers’ (but you may have a blogger or two attend if you were lucky!).  Social media and digital involved a basic Twitter account which was frequented primarily by opinionated journalists and PR people; having a digital presence was a standalone blog which really was a copy of the corporate website and Facebook was for checking in at random locations.

If I were to pick one thing that has stood out for me in our evolving industry is that agencies that took some risks in the past few years are the ones that are still standing, growing year-on-year and are leading in creativity. Successful agencies have recognised that having a heritage in PR and communications puts them in a unique position, no matter what the channel. We understand what our customer’s customers are thinking and how they will react to a message.

If you remain true to your heritage but innovate by bringing in new skills and different kinds of thinkers, you’ll create something unique. Instead of witnessing the industry evolve and change, lead it!


What issue would you like to see the communications industry change in 2020?

Charge for the ‘mind’, not the ‘minutes’. For agencies that started out in communications/PR, like Archetype, we’ve become accustomed to providing our creative ideas for free. Traditionally, we’ve spent weeks developing ideas as an ‘investment’ to win business.

Oftentimes one of these three things happen – One, clients will say there are budget cuts so the idea lives in a PowerPoint slide; Two, the client decides it’s a great idea but they have their team do 90% of the work or worst-case scenario, the proposed idea was not selected, yet you see that it was executed by another agency months later.

As an industry, we need to recognise that while clients may be able to get things cheaper, faster or execute inhouse, the value of the agency always lies in ideation and it’s up to us to demonstrate this value to our clients. This is something I’d like to see the industry focus on for a change by showcasing the value of ideas, instead of on trying to solve the measurement problem (which has been an issue since the beginning of time!)


What’s your advice for someone entering the communications industry?

One of my favourite quotes of all time is from Richard Branson: ‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later’. I think this is a wonderful philosophy and summarises a ‘growth mindset’ which is a must in our dynamic industry. Here’re some tips for someone starting out:

1. Be curious: Ask questions and don’t ever assume things are black and white or always done in a certain way. There are always new ways of looking at things. Don’t assume there’s one solution to a problem – think laterally and be willing to challenge and ask why?

2. Be open to change: This is so important in any industry but particularly in PR and marketing. Editorial content moves to paid partnerships, Facebook changes an algorithm, Apple buys all the keywords for something your client needs to own. Every day throws new challenges in the agency world. You need to not only be open to this change, but you should also enjoy it and see it as an opportunity for growth.

3. Never stop learning: Read articles, listen to podcasts and ensure you are always looking at new and different ways to do things. The right agency will allow you to step out of your comfort zone and try things out. Take a course, shadow a colleague but never stand still.


       Click here to view more Client Spotlight articles, where we chat with leaders in the communications and marketing industry on their plans and outlook for 2020 

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