It's impossible to read anything about PR and marketing that doesn't hammer home the view that things are changing rapidly. The challenges faced by conventional publishers, the rise of social media and the fact that online publications can be created quickly and cheaply are changing PR's dynamics.
It is easy to assume that these factors are the same across all industries - after all, aren't people using the same social media platforms, whether they are discussing cloud computing or cosmetics? This assumption, however, ignores the fact that individuals use social media tools in many ways.
Agencies that focus on particular market sectors will be able to gain an understanding of the unique environment that faces their clients, while large broad-based agencies will fail to see the nuances that are vital to make campaigns truly successful. For many industries, it's inevitable that more clients will choose specialist agencies.
For example, our semi-conductor clients want to reach electronics engineers, a group that doesn't interact much on Facebook and Twitter. Dismissing them as 'late adopters' of social media is a big mistake: they're actually early adopters who use other platforms. Twenty years ago, I was engaging with electronics engineers on forums - and that is still their preferred social media platform.
Specialists excel in research. Our studies address specific audiences, such as electronics design engineers and IT professionals, covering topics such as the amount of extra editorial coverage trade publications give to advertisers and the importance of different media channels. It's impossible for a non-specialist to perform such focused research, as they deal with a broad range of clients and audiences.
Many specialist agencies point to their greater product knowledge. It's true that a focused agency is likely to have more in-depth knowledge, but I don't believe that this is the differentiator. A deeper understanding of the audience really matters, and this is an area in which specialists have a huge advantage, as they gain experience and expertise through having many similar clients. For example, an engineer buying a memory chip and an IT manager purchasing memory for a computer are two completely different audiences: simply thinking of them as 'tech buyers' is a big mistake.
As the media move from a broadcast approach to building engagement with customers and prospects, agencies that don't specialise face the challenge of how can they interact with credibility. A greater understanding of the client, its products and its customers' needs gives specialists huge advantages when it comes to helping clients hold meaningful conversations with their audiences.
Perhaps the biggest advantage specialist agencies have is the ability to recruit and retain an outstanding team. If you're a PRO who loves a particular industry, you're much more likely to get to work in that sector with an agency that is totally committed to it. Boutique agencies are able to offer more responsibility and independence in a shorter timeframe.
Specialist agencies can locate wherever they want, as fewer editors, bloggers and clients are based in London. At Napier, our staff can choose to work in our small London office or at our head office on the south coast.
Ultimately, it's not just familiarity with a sector that will drive the growth of specialist agencies. Their ability to attract high-quality staff and their depth of understanding about markets and audience behaviour are also important factors in driving better results and delivering greater ROI.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?
Napier is like X-Men: individually, we all have our unique abilities, and when we are brought together, we're an unstoppable team.
- Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?
Their industry knowledge and writing skills can be invaluable, but to deliver PR strategically, a wider range of skills and expertise is needed.
- How do you find spokespeople to whom your market responds positively?
Great spokespeople can talk from the perspective of the whole industry. Media training is invaluable, but it is vital not to train the personality out of a speaker.
Mike Maynard is managing director at Napier Partnership.