10 lessons from 10 years of Clarity

Ten years ago, The Clarity Business launched out into the pounding waves of the Global Financial Crisis. Great timing! Here are ten things we've learned since then:

1. Never waste a good recession

A great comment by Mark Synnott of Colliers International in the depths of the October 2008 darkness showed us the way. Opportunity abounds if you’re looking out for it.

Thanks to the chance taken on us by three fantastic foundation clients, with then-14 years of experience under belts and trusty Nokias(!) in hand, on October 8th 2008 we set out to change the fortunes of Clarity’s clients for the better through good communication.

And all of a sudden it’s October 2018! Ten years have slipped past. Wow. Amazingly, in that time we have worked with more than 230 organisations and helped companies to secure work valued at more than $4.5 billion.

Our world today is a busy one, as shown in the infographic below. We work across numerous sectors and deliver real value through a number of communications disciplines - online, offline, inline:

2. Although communications tools evolve…

One thing is for sure: few people were talking about the fourth industrial revolution in 2008 (except maybe in Silicon Valley). Content marketing was not a term in wide usage, and Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat were yet to be born – as you can see in this nice infographic by AIS Media:

By our reckoning, 2011 was the year when - in New Zealand anyway – digital strategies took precedence over analogue methods of communication. Now look at what Hootsuite says about it:

Digital marketing and public relations inhabit the same world, even if they come at the world from slightly different places. One is definitely more fashionable than the other right now - you only have to gauge reactions when someone says ‘I work in PR’ compared to ‘I’m a digital marketer’ to know the truth of it.

However, great audience engagement (and goal achievement) needs both perspectives to be truly effective: superb tools to precisely target messages to all audiences in the exact ways and times they want, PLUS the thought process that puts the ‘public’ audience perspective at the forefront of all thinking so audiences want to come to you.

The electronic world we live in give both disciplines the opportunity to flourish together. Never before have communicators (my preferred term) had a more powerful opportunity (and more tools at their disposal) to reach and engage their audiences than now. It’s incredibly exciting.

And all measured intensely.

…great communications principles remain the same

It is easy to be dazzled by the incredible precision of the gadgets and gizmos of digital communications – which are after all tools of the marketer and communicator, not the whole offer.

It’s possible to be blinded to the truth of the fact that ultimately the starting point for every single piece of work we do is this equation: 


We say:

  • What do you need to achieve?
  • Who do you need to engage to achieve your goal?
  • What do you need to say to them to get them off their backsides?
  • How do we go about delivering that message – what channels do we need to use?

Sounds like a digital strategy? Often yes, but not always.

Some of the strongest strategies use a combination of direct communication, automated lead gen, media interaction, storytelling (via social channels, in person, at events and in publications), thought leadership – and more.

It is how you leverage and amplify one channel across others that generates real cut through and success. And this can be a combination of digital, analogue, and in-person communications.

3. Reputation is giving brand a hiding

The more we do, the more it becomes clear that reputation is beating brand.


Because although a strong, well thought-through and visible brand is critically important to differentiate you, your reputation is a living thing, and something that your customers ultimately create in their own minds. And that a) lives forever, and b) is a hard thing to shift once it is set.

Why does this matter?

In this era of massive information availability and transparency, your brand is often playing catch-up to reputation. Control of your brand has fundamentally shifted into the minds of your customers. For instance, if you promote that ‘people are our biggest asset’ and then make a large number of them redundant, your customers are rightly going to question your brand, and your reputation will take a hit.

​4. Build a great reputation by delivering - and storytelling - consistently

Your best lever to control your brand – and gain the reputation you desire – is consistent delivery over time. It is what you do to consistently deliver the values you hold dear, and communicate the brand that ties them together, that matters.

It’s not a new concept:

In short, live your brand: demonstrate every day what’s important to you - in your actions, and tell stories of it all, showcasing these actions in case studies and communication.

Whether you deliver on your brand promise or not is what matters. So, do your everyday actions (the way you hire people, the people you hire, the way they behave towards each other and your customers) match the expectations you have set in the minds of your customers?

And are you telling the stories of how you do this? So often this is missed. “Yes, we are living our lives with integrity and committed purpose” say executives, but there’s no visible evidence of it. Tell the stories of what you do, how you do it, why you are different, and above all, what this achieves for the audiences that matter to you. Telling, not selling, is a proven way to multiply the value in your offer in the minds of your customers.

Love you, Socrates – keep it up, big fella.

5. Mind the gap

Conversely, when there is a gap between brand position and the experience of delivery - promise unfulfilled, expectations set but not delivered in the outcome - reputations take a major hit.

Look at BP for example. Brand position: ‘Beyond Petroleum’. Experience: Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the CEO saying, “I’d like my life back”.

So we say:
- Have a clear brand proposition and deliverable values that underpin it
- Be clear about what drives you (your ‘why’) and how you do it (your behaviours)
- Be authentic in how you deliver your brand – your actions prove the experience is true
- Build a world of content around your offer and the experience of how it is deal with you, so your customers can see what you achieve for others: multiple touchpoints that show the breadth and range of your world.
- Help you understand if your offer is relevant to that desired organisation now

6. The best organisations deliver - and communicate - social and economic benefit

Now, increasingly - as shown elegantly by Neil Gaught in his powerful book ‘Core: How a Single Organising Idea can change business for good’ – the world’s most admired businesses are those that deliver sustainable economic and social benefit; living both at the core of their business strategy.

This will only increase as technology enables us all to see ever-more clearly into companies and reduce the ability for powerful brands to hide BP-like imbalances.

Therefore, have you given enough thought to creating a single organising idea for your organisation that puts human life and health at the core of your planning to drive long-term sustainable solutions?

Companies that make a business case which treats people and the planet with respect, and then demonstrates what they are doing authentically and transparently through good communication, are the ones that will push on successfully.

7. Diversification is critical

We love helping companies target, position themselves and then win work through formal procurement processes, including tenders – something I never knew I’d be doing ten years ago.

In 2009, we were invited to assist in creating the materials for a hospital tender valued at $110 million.

When we were told that one of the key elements that pushed the client in favour of our bid was its non-price attributes, ie: our work, a light bulb flashed on: the principles that helped us to be useful PR practitioners – namely clear messaging, our customer perspective and the ability to engage the audience in their terms – could be useful in this highly specific, win-everything-or-lose-it-all environment.

Since then we’ve gone on to help companies target and position themselves to win more than 150 contracts ranging in value from $200,000 to $1.2 billion. It gives us no end of satisfaction that to date our clients have won more than $4.5 billion in turnover via this method across that period of time.

And we want to do more of it!

Our perfect brief? 

A company that comes to us and says ‘we want to win contract x next year/in 18 months’. Why? We can then be of maximum use to work now to:

- Help you understand if your offer is relevant to that desired organisation now

- Tune your offer to be relevant

- Help you to live the offer (hello Socrates)

- Communicate the value in the offer – telling stories of what you do and the results you achieve for your customers

- Develop your relationships with the people you need to be aligned with

- Then help you prepare your messaging and content for the bid.

Do you have any situations that fit this description? If so, we’d love to help.

8. We need flourishing media outlets like never before

As advertising budgets evolve and change and media organisations struggle world-wide with how to value and sell news, we say that more than ever we need strong, flourishing media outlets – and more of them.

Instead of media mergers and consolidation, which surely can only breed monopolistic behaviour and reduce the variety of available opinion, we say we need more outlets, not less.

“Of course you’d say that”, you’re thinking. “You need media to tell your stories, you filthy PR people you”. And while it’s true that interacting with media is a core part of what we do, the truth is that without reliable news- and analysis-focused media (not the clickbait that passes for increasingly passes for news) all of us suffer.

The sunshine we see in this cloudy landscape is that although it’s hard to escape seeing news itself as a free commodity, available pretty much anywhere, quality analysis is still available across a myriad of sectors – but through more niche outlets that are springing up all over the place. Good news.

9. Co-working is magnificent

In 2011 we were looking for somewhere for Clarity to operate – a base that would represent us well, a place our clients would want to visit, and a space we would be keen to get up and go to every morning.

We’d heard of this new thing called ‘shared space’ and ‘co-working’, and a new place called Generator in Auckland’s CBD. After a first, entertaining visit there, we signed up – and it’s been a great, evolving experience in the seven and half years since.

All the things we needed were here – proximity to key clients, professional reception, IT, printing, coffee etc – but it is the community that exists and evolves over time here (including the people who work for Generator as well as the members) that keeps us fresh, gives me attributes I don’t personally possess (youth, and style, for example), shows us new things, puts us in the path of companies to broaden our world view - and on many occasions we work with them. And the culture of the place fits our outlook – fun, irreverent, relaxed, grown-up, focused. Have fun, get things done.

Many co-working places promise this, yet fail to deliver. Not Generator.

10. We’re going strong

Time for a party, we think.


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