February 17th, 2012 by Lloyd Gofton
Warning: rant coming…
First of all, this is not meant to be an attack on the recent post, titled ‘PR Agencies: Adapt or Die‘, on the Forrester blog. It made some good points, but it was also the spark that re-ignited my ongoing frustration with the industry that perpetuates this ‘x vs Y approach’, or ‘we’re better at it than you’ nonsense, which in my opinion misses the point entirely.
Yes, the traditional PR agency needs to adapt, and the same has been said for many years. The smart ones already have, and the others, well…they are slowly learning why they should.
In that time the search agency became all powerful, then became a digital agency and is now trying to redefine itself, and it’s a similar tale across the industry.
The reality for PR agencies, social agencies, digital agencies, search agencies and the vast majority of agencies, is that simply offering one element of a much wider remit of brand communications is not enough.
You cannot expect to live by one skill alone any more, and it’s pretty clear that brands are not willing to pay five agencies to do five roles that one should really be able to accomplish. Is it too much to ask that brand communicators should be able to establish emotional connections with customers, without the client needing to worry about where each level of service implementation comes from?
Some may argue that mobile is a specialism and one worth maintaining outside of the brand communications sphere of skills, and although it could be argued that is true for now, it was true of search and social at one time. Therefore, the simple truth is we as consumers absorb media quickly, and expect our services, brands and conversations to be cross-media very quickly, so why shouldn’t we expect the same of our agencies?
Getting back to my point, the issue is not about whether PR lives or dies, in its traditional form it has been struggling for 10 years. Search is losing its slice of the pie as skills go in-house and revenues tumble, and social agencies need to up-skill across the board to remain competitive, or risk being stranded as a specialist. So the issue is not so much who will win, but what will win.
By what, I mean that the agency of the future is not search or social or PR or even advertising. It’s more likely to be earned or paid media, and even earned and paid. This agency, let’s call it simply a brand communications agency (although I realise that has negative connotations traditionally) can do all of the above. This agency will be the winner, and yes that will upset many business models and eat into carefully laid profit plans, but that is the reality I see, and I don’t mean this agency will need to hold all skills in-house.
So yes, PR agencies as a general rule don’t do digital very well, this is not news, but it’s what PR, social, search and digital will become that is much more interesting.
Finally, a note to our regular readers. My apologies if you have seen this same rant in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and now 2012, it seems change takes time.