It’s been a decade since Allegory – then Thwaites Communications – opened its doors. The past 10 years have been a whirlwind of excitement, challenges, achievements, hard work and lots of learning – about business, about human nature, and about something which drives much of modern life in 2022 – data.
Allegory is marking its 10-year anniversary with a new campaign: Why Data Drives Reputation, exploring the inextricable link between data and communication. Before that happens, I want to take a look at some of the changes, challenges and realities that have defined a decade for me, for Allegory, and for everyone.
Back in 2012, as I watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on the TV and saw Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, live tweet ‘THIS IS FOR EVERYONE’, I had little idea that data would find its way into the heart of the agency I’d just founded, and into, well, pretty much every aspect of my life.
I also couldn’t have predicted that within a few weeks I’d be working with Sir Tim himself at the Open Data Institute, where he is co-Founder of one of Allegory’s foundational clients, along with UK AI expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt (who is also Principal of Jesus College, Oxford). In September 2012, I and my fledgling business became immersed in the world of data, AI and innovation. And so it has stayed for the past 10 years.
Data is everywhere, and increasingly visible
In 2012, I certainly wasn’t using any of the on-demand, algorithm-led, data-driven services I use now. Deliveroo was not delivering my groceries within 10 minutes of an order; Zipcar was not loaning me a car to visit friends; and Netflix was not recommending its latest big hit show (in fact in 2012 Netflix’s first original TV series was released: Lilyhammer).
Unless you happened to be down the pub with a bunch of computer or data scientists, it’s unlikely that data was on your radar at all in 2012 – except perhaps how much ‘data’ you had left on your mobile phone.
The pandemic has bought data into plain sight
Fast forward ten years, and data is now part of a public conversation that was inconceivable in 2012. For the past two years, data has dictated whether we go out or stay inside; see friends and family, or (video) call them; go into the office, or stick to Zoom. Zoning into the latest Coronavirus statistics has become a habit for many – enabling us all to understand the current situation and have an opinion on what should come next. The pandemic, and, sadly, the current conflict in Ukraine, has also shown us how data can be used in misinformation and disinformation campaigns by individuals and groups with either ill-informed or dangerous agendas, and disseminated to millions via social media.
There are so many things to learn from the pandemic, but I hope one of them is that data is relevant to all our lives – we can and should engage with it, but we should also understand its provenance. Whilst data was previously a hidden commodity, it is now recognised as a part of our national infrastructure, like roads and utilities, and we need to manage and engineer it in the same way.
The pandemic has also shown us how powerful it can be when data is shared across borders. The World Health Organisation is able to quickly identify new Coronavirus variants because the global scientific community is continually reporting patterns and trends. The response from the best epidemiologists in the world is immediate.
Communication never stands still
Just as data has irrevocably changed our lives over the past 10 years, so communication has evolved into a very different beast. In a media landscape which is dominated by 24/7 social media engagement and always-on channels, gaining cut-through is challenging for everyone working in our field. And of course it’s a much more crowded, competitive environment now. Everything has to be better all the time. Better stories (backed up by data!), better targeting and better impacts.
As an agency, Allegory has responded by hugely diversifying its skills set: from a team of PR and strategic communications specialists in 2012, to a flexible, multi-faceted group of professionals able to run large-scale, multi-channel, multi-disciplinary campaigns in 2022.
Plus ça change
Whilst the world of data races on, some things closer to home remain constant: values, mission and work ethic. When I launched the agency I wanted to work with interesting people making a difference in the world. Sure, there was more money to be made in the corporate world, but that wasn’t and isn’t for me and those I work with. We want to work with organisations that have a social purpose – across all sectors.
After a career advising UK government ministers, and reporting the news, I was used to applying intellectual rigour to every aspect of my work, and when I started the agency, I sought out clients where I was able to exercise that. I found it in (to name just a few) the Open Data Institute where we have worked to bring the value of data to public and private sector audiences over the past 10 years and in the Open University where we launched FutureLearn – the first UK MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform and in the visionary rebrand of the Energy Systems Catapult.
But, without doubt, the greatest joy of the whole adventure has been the team – because any business is really about its people. I realised early on that to recruit dedicated, passionate, loyal staff is incredibly difficult and that we needed to ‘grow our own’, harnessing early talent and developing the strategic communicators of the future. Our internship programme has launched the careers of some truly excellent communications operators. They have rewarded us ten-fold with their dedication and energy.
Now that I have stepped away from a day-to-day role at Allegory and onto pastures new, I feel very fortunate to have Charlotte McLeod as Allegory’s CEO, safeguarding and expanding my legacy, taking Allegory into its second decade and next iteration. Surrounding oneself with people who align with one’s values is always a great way to bring out the best in every situation.
Why Data Drives Reputation will celebrate Allegory’s decade in business by looking to the future. We’ll be joining forces with six opinion formers from business and communications to explore how organisations can meet their goals by mobilising two huge drivers for change: data and communications. From responsible data governance and understanding audience behaviour, to countering misinformation and building thought leadership. Make sure you get to read all the articles by subscribing to receive them directly in your inbox and following us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
10 years is a milestone for any business. Many don’t make it, and I’m extremely proud that Allegory has. 2032 – here we come!
Emma Thwaites is Founder and Executive Chair of Allegory, and Director of Communications & Marketing at the Open Data Institute