Robotspaceship: How do we bring PR into the future?
Jannis Johannmeier: (Laughs) That's multi-dimensional, of course. I think the PR world has traditionally been very service-oriented, meaning you have clients dictating what needs to be done.
That's typical, right? After all, PR is a service.
At this point, we take a different approach. First, we evaluate if the clients are worth our time and effort. Is it worthwhile to spread their ideas, visions, or messages to the world?
What would make it not worthwhile?
Does the tobacco industry or the arms lobby really need more communication? This can be argued endlessly.
We believe certain things don't need enhanced communication. People can smoke if they choose. We don't need to make that more appealing. That's our first step.
And this doesn't matter in the conventional PR world?
Unfortunately, yes, it often doesn't matter. If you're being paid for something, you do it.
We proceed as follows: If we are passionate about something and say "Yes, it's worth it," we aim to be involved not only in communication but throughout the entire value chain. This can even extend to the development of ideas or products.
Why is that?
We believe PR can't be effective if you only understand 20% of a company after neglecting 80% of it, and then you're expected to make the remaining 20% glitzy.
But the clients are the ones paying your bills.
Absolutely! However, at our agency, the customer is no longer king. We can't simply abide by every wish of a client if, as communication professionals, we know it's not going to yield positive results.
That sounds courageous.
We are indeed working in our clients' interest. While we ensure to communicate the facts, we do emphasize certain aspects more than journalists would. We are still doing PR after all.
Can you describe what your approach looks like?
We adopt a holistic communication style. We don't just talk about the product, but the story behind it. We not only highlight successes but also setbacks, as they are a part of every journey.
Our approach requires that our partners be transparent about their challenges and problems and how they plan to address them. Not every story seeks to elicit applause.
When you examine a company that wants to work with you, do you focus on products or do you take a holistic view?
We definitely adopt a holistic view. If a company can't credibly assure us that they are considering ESG criteria, then they are not a good fit for us. We are also interested in the people behind the company, their goals, and their future plans. More often than not, there's a mismatch.
Earlier, you mentioned wanting to be part of a company's value creation. That's understandable. But what does it mean when you say you're involved in product development?
We don't want to ignore 80% of what a company does, then put some gloss on the remaining 20%. We always communicate at a vision level. This process often results in our partners realizing what they should focus more or less on. In this context, a product can take different forms for us.
Can you give examples of partners who have adopted this approach?
Certainly! Marantec, for instance, has undergone a real transformation with us. They were a good, albeit somewhat unsexy, medium-sized company or a so-called "hidden champion." Now they've become a good, important medium-sized company, an "open champion." They're making noise and showing what they can do. This has even led us to establish a new company: Open Champion. We are developing new business models that align with the bigger picture and possibly fit better than what they've been doing for the last 30 years.
Another example is Seidensticker, which after more than 100 years has developed a unisex line. This might sound trite to our generation, but when such a traditional company rebrands itself, it's a big deal. Sometimes it's about communicating things that didn't go well, because there's value in others learning from these mistakes.
Why should companies opt for this approach? They are paying you to make them look good.
But what does "looking good" mean? I don't believe that it means being perfect. We aim to use communication to effect societal change. We want to show that even major players make mistakes. How else can we portray what is truly happening - or what isn't happening?
So, innovative PR is about being honest?
It's about honesty, being driven by values, and presenting an authentic image to the public.
Who is Jannis Johannmeier?
Jannis Johannmeier is one of the founders of the Bielefeld, Germany-based agency, The Trailblazers. Founded in the middle of a pandemic, the company has only moved in one direction since: forward. Johannmeier and his co-founders, Kristof Albrink and Jule Bolzenius, have expertly leveraged social media to rally public support