As other agencies encroach upon public relations’ turf, traditional PR agencies need to evolve their own offerings to ensure survival.
“There’s no doubt we’re seeing globally the need for PR agencies to modernise,” Michelle Hutton, global chair of consumer marketing at PR agency Edelman told B&T. “And what I mean by that is new and diverse specialist skills to enable us to deliver exactly what’s outlined.
“We can only now do the type of work that clients demand of us by bringing in new skills.”
This isn’t a secluded issue to just the PR agencies though. The creative and media agencies are tackling similar sidles into their realms. However, with some believing PR professionals lack confidence in themselves and a stagnant perception problem, these agencies need to figure out how to become relevant quickly.
“With the changing media landscape, the changing client demands, the changing consumer demands, there is no doubt that all agencies need to continually innovate and modernise and redefine the offer,” said Hutton.
When asked though whether the modernisation would mean a cannibalisation of sorts between the agencies flowering and floundering, there was no clear answer.
“My prediction is that we need to innovate and modernise with the way the world’s changing,” said Steve Spurr, CEO of Edelman Australia, “and I think agencies that don’t will die away.”
But to differentiate your offer and bring in more skillsets, agencies need to look outside the box.
“I think there’s definitely potential for agencies to consolidate to bring that scale,” he said.
Declining to say whether Edelman has any acquisitions on the cards, Spurr said they’d never rule it out.
It’s dire reading for those PR agencies still stuck in their traditional ways.
At the end of last year, futurist Ross Dawson made a similar prediction, adding PR agencies have yet to seize the opportunity to become essential.
“What is realistic is that quite a few PR firms in Australia today will not prosper or sometimes even survive, yet we will also see the better firms prosper better and grow faster from the agencies which are in the other marketing disciplines,” he said.
“This is because they’re going beyond the traditional PR media relations and crisis communications bandwidth and encompassing mobile and social and other broader offerings, to be able to essentially manage, broadly, customer engagement.”
And the Public Affairs Asia state of the industry report released in March this year noted there’s a perception issue in the PR world – namely people not in the industry think it’s just sending out press releases.
So what’s an agency to do?
First, looking to the other markets to see what’s happening. While Spurr said there’s similar issues in the PR industry around the world, because Australia is a smaller market we feel it more, and can learn from our counterparts across the seas.
Hutton added there’s more room for data and analytics to be interspersed with communications practices.
Referencing Edelman’s large digital office in the States, Hutton said the team there is constantly feeding the data straight to the CMO.
“I think more and more when we are integrating that into our traditional PR and communications business, powered by a very strong senior strategist and planner, we are seeing a different type of agency model evolve,” she said, adding there are proposals to bring a similar offering Down Under.
And with the influx of data, Spurr reckoned data analysts will become the future foundational role for agencies like Edelman.