Industry reacts to The Future of the PR Agency study

Strategic planning, digital literacy and harnessing data are among the key factors agencies must focus on, according to PR agency bosses.

PRCA survery: industry response
PRCA survery: industry response

A PRCA study on The Future of the PR Agency, presented at the PRCA 2013 National Conference on Friday, highlighted more integrated communications and evidence of return on investment (ROI) as key issues facing PR agencies.

As part of the study, YouGov surveyed 51 in-house PR professionals and 63 agency PR professionals across a variety of sectors.

The research broadly found the clients were happy with their agencies, but felt PR agencies did not offer truly integrated services and needed to improve their evidence of return on investment.

Speaking at the conference, Brilliant Noise founding partner Antony Mayfield stressed the importance of digital and said the PR industry was well placed to tackle the challenges because of the speed at which it could innovate.

"When advertising agencies talk about innovation they’re talking about incremental innovation," he said. "PR can be more nimble because it doesn’t have to keep to paid media. For PR it’s disruptive innovation."

He added that one thing PR agencies should do going forward is to hire a data analyst. Threepipe co-founder and managing director Farhad Koodoruth agreed that data analysis was the key to proving ROI, but warned the results would always be limited.

"You’re always trying to look at other areas to give you insight about how people engage with your brand, such as surveys on that or from a digital perspective looking at analytics and search data, putting that together with what’s happening on social media," he said. "So you’re looking at softer data points which later could translate into providing an ROI. It’s getting better with the level of data available to us, but being able to prove it is never going to happen."

Commenting on the research, Freud Communications corporate practice managing director Arlo Brady said the research reflected how PR as a discipline has changed over the past decade.

"The fundamentals remain, but the rules of the game evolve in different and unexpected ways every day," he said. "As this research shows, agencies in our industry must embrace that change in order to survive and thrive. We must be two steps ahead of our clients, investing in the best talent and developing new products and services that meet their emerging needs."

He added: "At the core of this is the need for PR agencies to become better strategic sparring partners to our clients. This research highlights the gap and suggests that clients are looking elsewhere for the advice and support that we are best placed to deliver. This is the frontline in the future for PR agencies and it is where we can best demonstrate incredible value for money which will hedge against the ongoing battle to evidence ROI."

He said Freuds had responded to this challenge by widening its recruitment pool to include people from more diverse backgrounds and creating its ‘Brewery team’ of specialist consultants, dedicated to the delivery of purpose-based strategic counsel to senior clients.

Good Relations executive creative director Simon Shaw added the research showed the importance of strategic leadership and planning.

"Agencies inability to deliver strategic consultancy is perhaps one of the most worrying findings and one that could have the most far-reaching effect on the industry's long-term success," he maintained. "To compete in delivering the most effective communications campaigns we need to bring together the brand strategy and creativity of the advertising world, the interactivity of digital with the real-time storytelling approach of PR. Only when we have all three of these in place can we genuinely add value to the strategic direction of a brand and business that is rooted in integrated communications."

STATS

52% - The proportion of agency respondents predicting that five years from now agencies would need to offer more evidence of ROI and more integrated comms.

54% - The proportion of companies surveyed that currently employ a PR agency.

86% - The proportion of clients using a non-PR agency with "specialist expertise that their agency lacks".

55% - The proportion of clients that would consider buying traditional PR services from another type of agency.

How I see it - Golin Harris deputy MD Bibi Hilton

"Last week’s PRCA findings mirror our own 2011 research. What we discovered prompted us to launch a new specialist agency for the future model. We found clients then and now hungry for specialist expertise, particularly in strategic consultancy. It’s staggering that two years on, 86% clients are still shopping outside our discipline for the specialist expertise they want and need. As an industry, we haven’t evolved as quickly or dramatically as we needed to.

For a long time, the industry has been seen to lack the strategic might of our advertising sibling, too often naively reaching for creative, which isn’t rooted in true insights. The agency of the future has to address this as its number one priority to ensure we secure and maintain a place at the top table.

That’s why we’ve moved from a generalist model to four specialist communities staffed by true experts – from an Accenture analyst to an executive TV producer. If we are to future-proof our industry, we need to specialise, to become more literate and skilled in all aspects of communications, not just traditional media relations and start recruiting from outside our own very small PR world."

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