David Hargreaves

Reflections on the reinvention of the PR industry

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, , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

So Who Are the Real Experts?

Last week we completed the second of a couple of pitches for social media work where we were pitching against an eclectic mix of agencies; some PR, some digital and some more known for their measurement services. The decision makers were similarly from varying backgrounds. Some were from the web team, others from the PR team and some from the social media team. 

The whole process of putting together the presentation was fascinating because we suspected that the digital agencies would pitch ‘building a shiny object’ on the basis that “if we build it, they will come”; the competing PR agency would pitch engagement with existing audiences in existing channels; and the measurement company would probably do loads of data analysis up front and at the end, but were unsure what they would do in the middle.

What struck me more than anything during the process was that it was a futile exercise arguing the rights and wrongs of the different approaches because a successful campaign will probably comprise all three elements which is why we are seeing so much change in the overall agency landscape right now. Last week saw another raft of announcement as Voce acquired a web firm.

In going through this process, what occurred to me is that there are an awful lot of people claiming to be social media experts (very eloquently argued here by Brian Solis), but the real experts in my mind are the ones that are communications experts who can transcend channels and disciplines. Having a social media expert who understands how to use Twitter or Facebook is a bit like having an expert who understands how to use the telephone (you get my point – it is just a channel). However, a communications expert that understands how to use the power of multiple channels (both old and new) in tandem is really valuable.

And the result of the pitch? I don’t know yet. But it did have me leaving the room thinking…I wonder what background the social media experts were from? Are the real social media experts not the ones who are the real communications experts?


*Also on Bitemarks

Filed under: Communications, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, , , , , ,



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