PR Agencies Are Changing – And Not A Moment Too Soon

Written by: David Gallagher

dgPrint@TBoneGallagher

Senior Partner/CEO Ketchum Europe
President, ICCO

One of the benefits of volunteering time to be active in industry associations like ICCO is the opportunity to learn from colleagues, thought-leaders and even competitors on what’s going on outside your own agency, and in conversations with smart innovators from the world, there’s a consistent theme: change.

Few of the leaders in the PR business I’ve met over the past year doubt that the agency world is undergoing significant transformation, and most would agree these changes are coming just in the nick of time.  Our business is no less vulnerable to the disruption we’ve seen in other industries – music, travel or, of course, the media – and the best agencies have plenty to teach us all when it comes to providing better service, developing stronger talent and building more resilient business models.

A few of the ways they’re changing (and what we can learn):

  1. Media relations – part of what marketers might assign to the ‘earned’ component of their channel mix (paid, earned, shared/social and owned) – is as valuable as ever. It’s a true differentiator against others that might specialise in advertising or website development for example.  But to survive in an integrated world, the strongest agencies are building their own capabilities to amplify content through paid channels, develop social media strategies and produce content that works across all channels.
  1. Leveraged teams – led by senior (and expensive) experts and supported by less experienced (and less expensive) layers of juniors still has a place in procurement-driven engagements. But this place may be shrinking as clients look for new areas of specialist skill, new ways of pricing work and new expectations for the actual results of an agency engagement.  Some agencies are finding success with more ‘liquid’ teams and flexible structures to accommodate changing client expectations and budgets.
  1. The boundaries between ‘independent’ and ‘network’ offerings are blurring. There are advantages to both, but many independent agencies are building their own networks of like-minded consultancies to provide expertise and reach wherever their clients need it, while many network agencies are developing their own ‘boutique’ offers and specialist services to offer widely to clients of all sizes.
  1. The talent coming into PR is stronger than ever – we need to nurture it. Most markets report greater numbers of stronger applicants entering the agency business than ever before – welcome news for business models that rely almost entirely on human brain-power.  Once in, however, great hires are not always easy to hold, with many lured into corporate assignments or other industries.  Great agencies learn how to anticipate and meet the needs of the ‘millennial’ generation for more sustainable, dynamic teams.
  1. Data, analytics and measurement are finally here.  Really. One of the most discussed but least-realised topics in PR has been the need for stronger research and robust measurement.   We have all discussed, agreed and, mostly, ignored.  No longer.  The most innovative agencies see that easily accessible data, simple analytics and a client orientation to proven results can offer a competitive advantage, which they are putting to work.

Another great thing about being active in local, national or international industry organisations like ICCO is the opportunity to meet the people leading the way in these areas, and hearing first hand of their successes in ways you can apply to your agency and your own career.

I know – I have had the pleasure to meet and learn from the best, from my own agency and our fiercest competitors.

And now you can too – at the global ICCO summit in Milan this October. If any of these topics are vexing you and your teams (or if you have successful solution to share), you won’t have a better opportunity to interact with our industry’s leading thinkers and problem solvers than this one-of-a-kind conference.

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About ICCO

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the voice of public relations consultancies around the world. The ICCO membership comprises national trade associations in 31 countries across the globe in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia. Collectively, these associations represent over 2,000 PR firms.

Contact Binta Kristin Hammerich, ICCO Global General Manager