by Herman Manson (@marklives) We recently caught up with Kate Thompson-Duwe, managing director of Amplicon PR, a strategic content and communication company, to discuss to evolving business models for public relations agencies, upgrading traditional measures of performance in PR, and managing reputations in an age of radical transparency.

MarkLives logoAmplicon PRWhat is the back story on the agency? You initially launched as part of the FoxP2 Group.
Kate Thompson-Duwe:
We launched in 2011 as part of the FoxP2 Group. After two very successful years together we decided to separate, as existing clients within the greater FoxP2 client stable were preventing us from taking on significant clients that had approached us but were competitors to FoxP2’s existing client base. The split was very amicable and we remain close to the FoxP2 team.

Becoming independent also allowed Amplicon to craft and pursue an agency model that we believe is more appropriate for the rapidly evolving socio-economic environment and the implications for marketing strategy and marketing communication.

MarkLives logoAmplicon goes well beyond traditional PR. How did this evolve internally and what does it entail?
We believe that the traditional PR agency model needs to evolve. We are not abandoning traditional PR which still has its role, but needs to be part of a portfolio of offerings that is equally strong in research, strategy and content. I also believe that traditional measures of performance in PR need to be upgraded to better tie in with the client’s business objectives.

Working with a strategic innovation consultancy, we developed a new suite of service offerings for our clients including:

  • Traditional PR services with specific focus on consumer and llifestyle brands and crisis management.
  • Qualitative ethnographic research to complement traditional quantitative demographic research. Specific focus on how consumers access, use and share information.
  • A bespoke strategy offering that brings together business, brand and communication objectives, strategies, tactics and measures. Amplicon has appointed a specialist strategic consultant to help clients with their business, brand and communication strategies.
  • Content marketing. This is a massive focus for Amplicon as content marketing is the next evolutionary step for PR, and other marketing, agencies. We are investing in specialist content producers, as opposed to retreaded account managers, and have introduced cutting-edge practices such as brand newsrooms into our offering.

MarkLives logoWas the expanded research, strategy and content offering a hard sell to clients initially?
On the content side, we were extremely fortunate to have a brave client base that embraced the brand newsroom offering and were supportive as we pioneered this in South Africa.

Kate Thompson-Duwe
Kate Thompson-Duwe

The harder sell was convincing media outlets that we were producing category-focused content and not client-focused content. However, after seeing several of our articles which don’t even mention the client, they were happy to use the content.

By brand newsroom, we are not referring to a newsroom that produces brand-related content but one that produces content that is of interest to the brand’s category and target market. By growing interest in the category, one benefits all the brands in the category.

On the strategy side, that was a process of discovery for our clients. Many had come to Amplicon expecting a normal agency “template” strategy and found themselves receiving a service similar to what they would receive from a management consultancy. The strategy workshops and development process have been a great hit with clients and [are] an area that we have made a driving focus moving forward for the remainder of 2015 and beyond.

Qualitative ethnographic research is relatively new for many of our clients, who are used to more traditional demographics, but once they [have] understood the insights and value that it provides, they are are very open to it. The fact that ethnographic research is growing in importance worldwide is also reassuring to our clients.

MarkLives logoHow much of what you do involves old-fashioned media relations?

KTD: There will always be a place for traditional media relations in this industry, and we acknowledge and embrace that. Many of our clients retain a large focus on traditional media relations and AVE-based coverage and reporting, and we are happy to conduct these campaigns; we will, however, continue to offer additional solutions using our bespoke methodology in addition to this.


MarkLives logoMany people would argue that social media is not something that can or should be outsourced by a brand. Your take?
KTD: Social media is not exempt from the objectives-strategy-tactics-measurement requirements that all other marketing communication must adhere to. Our engagement with clients is to make sure that social media is not just a checklist of channels such as Facebook and Twitter but rather a carefully constructed and implemented strategy that engages with the consumers and contributes towards the client business objectives.

We work closely with clients in developing an overall strategy and implementation plan. Who implements depends on the client’s resources. I have always found that a combined effort is the best.


MarkLives logoAmplicon recently signed a partnership with a UK-based strategic content agency, Captive Minds. What does this entail and how does it benefit the agencies involved?
KTD: Captive Minds shares a very similar vision to ours in that [it emphasises] content, strategy and research. The immediate benefit is that both agencies now have a partner in parts of the world where their respective clients are active or interested. The close alignment between Amplicon and Captive Minds means that the service offered to the clients is virtually identical and clients can still work through their “home agency” while venturing into new territories.

That is the obvious and very important benefit. However, our association with Captive Minds goes beyond that. What is particularly attractive to me is the benefit that comes from sharing knowledge and collaboration. Captive Minds is regarded as a leading agency in the fields of content marketing and strategy. I would like to believe that Amplicon’s offerings are similarly cutting-edge. Initial meetings have already confirmed that we are going to build some stunning offerings together.

I am also particularly excited about [its] bespoke software which tracks the performance of digital campaigns in real-time. I look forward to bringing that to South Africa.


MarkLives logoYou talk about an era of radical transparency. What does it mean, and what does it mean for communications agencies like yours?
KTD: Radical transparency means absolute openness and is a belief that we hold close to our hearts and a daily operational method we have always and will always use. We won’t make promises to clients or media that we can’t fulfil, and we will always endeavour to keep the transparency throughout a project’s progress in order for clients to accurately track campaigns and methodologies to ensure that the work that is being done is the work that is best for our client’s interests.


Herman Manson 2105Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of He was the inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011 and has, over his 20-year-plus career, contributed to numerous journals and websites in South Africa and abroad, including AdVantage magazine, Men’s Health, Computer World and African Communications.



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