David Hargreaves

Reflections on the reinvention of the PR industry

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

The Data Imperative: Will PR Win or Lose the Battle for Data?



It was interesting to see some of the latest findings in a study entitled 2009 Digital Readiness Report, released by iPressroom. It highlights the fact that PR is ‘leading the social media revolution inside an organization’ which is great to hear. It was also interesting to note that PR lags marketing in just two disciplines: email marketing and SEO, but leads in the disciplines of blogging, social networking, social search and micro-blogging. There is a great post on Jason Falls blog discussing the report in more detail.

I am clearly biased but I am passionate about the fact that the discipline of PR, which is routed in influence, should be the rightful owner of social media. In so doing, we can transform PR into a discipline that cuts across all departments within the organization.

However, if we are to succeed, I think there is one big obstacle we need to overcome – how we use data. If you look at the two disciplines where the PR profession is lagging marketing they are the two areas which are also driven by data. If we are to succeed it is imperative that we become masters of data and how we use data to drive campaigns.

There are lots of great companies out there which are helping to provide the industry with the tools we need to put data at the center of what we do. (I particularly liked BuddyMedia who I met last week in New York).

Yesterday I had another reminder. The ad agency of one of our clients made a grab for a part of the tactical execution of the Facebook component of a campaign. The rationale, according to them, was that they hold all the data analytics for the web site so “it makes sense.” The great skill we have as PR professionals is that we understand how to create and drive content that influences and engages people. However, that will only take us so far unless we show how we then turn that engagement into paying customers.

We are making good headway as an industry but the battle over data is still far from won. 


*Also posted on Bitemarks

Filed under: Communications, Marketing, North America, Public Relations, Social Media, Technology, Trends, Web Analytics, , , , , , , ,

Building a Social Media Strategy

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been involved in a number of sessions with clients as part of helping them define their social media strategy. My sense is that we are now beyond the let’s experiment stage and have now moved into the ‘we need to join up all these experiments’ phase. There are a number of fundamental questions that I think we need to answer as part of determining a strategy (I am not going to go into them all here), but I think a big question facing many brands is how to strike the balance between engaging with their target audience on their site or on a third party site or on a property that is a hybrid of the two. In other words:

  1. What is the role of www.client.com as a destination within the social media strategy?
  2. To what extent should we be engaging existing audiences on third-party properties?
  3. Is there a role for a loosely coupled digital property within the social media strategy?

There is clearly no right and wrong answer because it depends on a whole host of factors including whether you are trying to attract new customers or build a deeper relationship and loyalty with existing customers. One thing is sure, ‘if you build it they won’t necessarily come!’ How you then aggregate an audience around a destination that is the focus for the conversation is, in my view, the key to success.

It is interesting to look at different approaches. Symantec has created a real thought leadership position as an expert in the security space by publishing security threat data on Symantec.com. As a market leader, it has the brand authority to host this on its own branded property, the content of which is then picked up elsewhere.

Kaspersky, on the other hand, a brand less known in the space, has recently launched www.threatpost.com, a ‘loosely-coupled’ media property. Kaspersky has recruited a couple of journalists to create a security news aggregation site as part of building itself up as an authority on security issues. In addition to this being a destination in its own right, something like this will have a massive impact on natural search providing a huge amount of ‘Google juice’. The launch of www.threatpost.com covered by ZDnet and also in Business Week. A sign of the times that “Company x launches ‘marketing initiative’” makes it into the mainstream media as a media property in its own right.

I must confess I struggled to find a great example in the security industry of a brand having really engaged with a third party community in a powerful way (all examples welcome – I even went to my trusty list from Peter Kim). However one great example of an existing third-party community where brands can engage is www.spiceworks.com (a community of over 500,000 IT professionals in the SME space). A number of Bite clients including AMD are heavily involved in this. A classic case of fishing where the audience swims.

While there is no right and wrong approach I think as long as you are clear about the role you are asking each social media and indeed broader communications channel to play as part of the broader marketing mix, it becomes a lot easier to think about how you join up all the existing experiments.

Filed under: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, , , , , ,



June 2018
« Oct