David Hargreaves

Reflections on the reinvention of the PR industry

Should PR Agencies Set Up An Ageny Within An Agency

russian dollRecently there has been a fair amount of discussion about the pros and cons of PR agencies setting up an “agency within an agency” to focus on social media or whether social media should just become part of what the regular PR account teams do? The most recent discussion was this post on Todd Defren’s blog. Given I am in the process of moving into a new role to set up a new Next Fifteen digital agency this is a question that I  have spent a good deal of time thinking about.

In short, while there is no right and wrong answer, my view is that you need to do both. All PR consultants have to embrace social media as part of broadening their skills in building and managing relationships and engaging with influencers.  At the same time there are certain skills which are important to the development and execution of really strong communications campaigns which traditional PR people just do not have.

In the future, I would expect PR practitioners to continue to provide top level counsel, understand their clients business and markets intimately, to use all their skills to craft stories and to then sell those stories into all the key influencers in a given space. Social media channels have become a hugely important part of the influencer outreach and as such firmly sit in the domain of the PR professional. In some ways, I think about this aspect of social media as ‘social media relations.’  It is doing what we have alway done but using the new channels that are open to us. (In many ways we can probably start dropping the word ‘social’ because there are very few media outlets that do not have a social element. Maybe we should just be talking about ‘the media’ again, albeit a media that has undergone a huge transformation – a subject for another day).  

However, social media, or rather the internet itself, has opened up a whole new way of communicating directly with the consumer rather than through the classic third party influencer. This is the area where I believe traditional PR practitioners could benefit from getting access to some specialist skills, as brands take on the role of communicating directly with the individual through these digital channels.  Specifically I think the areas which require investment in new skills for PR agencies are as follows:

–          Skills and a technology platform to provide data, analysis and insight to help focus campaigns on the most influential nodes of any single client issue or discussion. This requires analytical skills more closely associated with the advertising, direct marketing and the search world’s than it does PR.

–          Individuals who can develop digital strategies based on the insights gleaned from the above, but also using an understanding of how to use digital channels to maximize the engagement with the individual through every touch point within the organization.

–          The skills to create rich digital assets. The ability to develop web properties, create data visualizations or a highly interactive and immersive experience on YouTube is a very different skill all together.

Again referring to one of Todd’s posts  (I have always had a huge amount of respect for Todd and Shift since they created the SMR template – a genius piece of marketing),  it is very hard for a PR agency to bring all of these skills in house because not all clients will need them all of the time. That being said, I think that is where as a group Next Fifteen has an advantage in as much as it has six fantastic PR brands representing some of the best blue chip brands in the world.

Any PR agency that doesn’t bring all these skills in house can still deliver fantastic campaigns if it works closely with the clients’ other marketing agencies. It is the integration of these skills, not whose office they sit in, which is the important bit. However, there is one other thing that needs to happen, and that is a clients’ willingness to try to integrate the different skills more closely. Ultimately regardless of what an agency may provide, it is irrelevant if the buyer still wants to buy in silos with the PR person buying social media relations and the marketing person buying a shiny new web property.

Filed under: Communications, Public Relations, Search, Social Media, Web Analytics,

In Search Of The Missing Pieces

I am sure I am not the only person who runs a PR agency who spends many waking hours thinking about how their business needs to evolve to reflect the changing communications landscape. The challenge is how to evolve while operating in a climate where agencies have to deliver more for less for their clients and while investment in new skills has been limited by virtue of slower growth or even a shrinking business over the past 12 months.Missing Pieces

The good news is that there is certainly no shortage of opportunities to pursue, the difficult bit is working out what are the specific skills and capabilities an agency needs to overlay on top of all the services a traditional agency would deliver. I saw a recent post from Todd Defren  where he was asking a very similar question.

His question was asking “what you would do differently if you were setting up an agency from scratch today.”  As I gear up for my new role within the Next Fifteen Group, I am going through this very process right now and have been giving it a lot of thought. That being said, I am coming at this from a slightly different perspective, in that we are looking develop a consultancy that provides complementary (not competing) services to Next Fifteen’s existing PR brands: Lexis, Text 100, Outcast, Bite, MBooth and 463.

I think it is sometimes easy to jump straight into thinking about the specific services that a progressive communications group needs to deliver rather than thinking about what are the broader drivers among our clients (and indeed our clients’ audiences) which require the evolution of our services. I won’t pretend I have captured them all here but I think there are three key drivers that I consider the most important:

  1. Organisational change: As the digital landscape changes, companies are struggling to understand how the different digital channels should be leveraged across not just the marketing function but every single function in an organization.
  2. Data Explosion: PR has never been know for being particularly scientific or being driven by data. The free availability of data and the ability to capture and analyse data demands that we leverage data much more heavily in our quest to influence an audience
  3. Rich Digital Content Is King: Stating the obvious, but communications is now highly visual and as such is centered around ‘social objects’ which can be everything from a video to a game or widget.

One thing I do know is that for traditional PR agencies, the  media is as important as ever not least because of the power of digital channels in propagating this content. On top of that, the core skill of building relationships with key influencers will continue to be a prized asset of great PR agencies.

We won’t be launching our new consultancy until later in the year but in the meantime we have the exciting challenge of working with our sister companies and our clients to determine where we put our initial focus.

Filed under: Communications, Events & Announcements, Marketing, North America, Social Media

A Temperature Check On The West Coast PR Market

This morning I went along to my first Council of Public Relations Firms meeting in San Francisco which was attended by the principles of some of the big firms here in the Bay Area. Having competed fiercely against Access for a number of clients (and lost more than I would have liked to) it was great to meet Susan Butenhoff for the first time having heard so much about her. Similarly it was great to meet some of the people behind other agencies that I always hear good things about such as LaunchSquad.

Kathy Cripps from the Council of PR Firms gave an interesting presentation sharing some of the data from a recent survey (which I understand is confidential). However, it confirmed what I think we all know: the end of last year and the beginning of this year was horrible, most firms looked at, and in some cases took, fairly drastic measures to reduce costs and clients wanted more for less. (If you haven’t seen this video it is a must – courtesy of Tod Defren’s PRsquared blog, which is where I first saw it ).

There were a couple of other elements of the discussion which struck a chord with me.

First for new business. There were definitely mixed feelings about the current number of leads out there that however there were four things that everyone wanted to get off their chest:

  1. Clients who don’t give some sort of budget as part of the pitch process are just not helping the process
  2. Many clients are selecting from very long “shortlists”
  3. The selection process seems to be getting more and more drawn out for even the smallest accounts
  4. It is just plain rude when, after having spent $$$$ pitching, when the prospect doesn’t even call to tell you the result – trust me, it does happen

In  a bid to help smooth the RFP process, the Council of PR Firms has produced an RFP builder to help clients choose the right agency by following a best practice blueprint – great job!

And now for social media. Anyone who knows me, will know I am passionate about our role in the fast changing communications landscape (I would actual argue that we are almost at the point where the ‘social’ can be taken out of ‘social media’ but that’s another story.) There were three conversations among the group that confirmed my own experiences:

  1. As an industry we need to bring on people who are more visual in their thinking (creatives, TV scriptwriters, designers)
  2. Digital is a huge incremental fee opportunity for us to secure fee from other marketing disciplines and it really is happening
  3. Successful agencies are the ones that will seize the opportunity digital gives us to use data to deliver against marketing metrics (traffic, clicks, purchases, downloads and ultimately customer acquisition costs)

Overall a very useful temperature check and being relatively new to the Bay Area in PR career terms, it was great to meet some of the people who we compete against but until today have never met.

Previously published on BiteMarks.

Filed under: Public Relations, , ,

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