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,

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