EDITORIAL: Offshoring debate underscores PR's need to advise on both present and emerging issues

Offshoring is the cause célébre of the moment. (See "Offshoring reputation"). But for those of us who have acquaintances in IT or financial companies, it's a practice that has been working its way through corporate America for some time. These days, nary a newspaper nor a PR trade publication can ignore the debate swirling over whether sending jobs overseas is ultimately a good thing for the economy or just a way for greedy corporations to limit overhead.

Offshoring is the cause célébre of the moment. (See "Offshoring reputation"). But for those of us who have acquaintances in IT or financial companies, it's a practice that has been working its way through corporate America for some time. These days, nary a newspaper nor a PR trade publication can ignore the debate swirling over whether sending jobs overseas is ultimately a good thing for the economy or just a way for greedy corporations to limit overhead.

The whole issue is a good case study in how emerging trends become company headaches seemingly overnight. The fact is, however, they don't erupt overnight. Rather, the topic of offshoring has been lurking in the periphery, no doubt wrangled over by management consultants, corporate counsel, and human resource departments long before it was ever splashed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Recently, we have been involved in roundtable discussions with corporate executives where the subject has come up of what PR departments want from their agencies. One executive expressed the wish that his firms offered more insights into what issues may be emerging, rather than just helping them deal with the ones that are already on their radar. That perspective has been echoed by others in a number of conversations. If only it were that simple. I'm quite sure that many PR firms would love to focus on developing analyses of coming trends, but there are factors that limit their ability to do so. For example, budget restrictions are top-of-mind for both sides of the agency-client relationship. Many companies clearly need help with strategy and issues planning because their PR departments are still functioning with fewer people. So they also need more so-called "foot soldiers" just to get the work done. Agencies also worry that the increasing involvement of procurement departments in reviews will propel the industry towards greater commoditization and limit the scope of its strategic input even further. PR agencies will often formalize practices around key issues, just as GCI Group recently launched a group dedicated to offshoring. But clearly more grassroots efforts are also needed in order to remain in the strategic circle. Consultant Jerry Swerling advises firms to offer strategy whether they are asked for it or not, including identifying looming issues. Firms that are growing existing business are more than certainly doing it already. Agency Excellence Survey results are in The results have come in from PRWeek's inaugural Agency Excellence Survey, which was conducted by Millward Brown. This is the first survey of its kind that we have produced, focusing on what consumers of PR services really think about those who are providing them. Clients were asked to rank their agencies in terms of creativity, providing measurable ROI, having high-quality staff, understanding the client's business, and a range of other attributes. The survey looks at agencies across practice areas and asks whether or not the respondent would hire its firm again. The goal is to provide a road map for agencies to better meet client needs. - PRWeek will publish top-line results of the Agency Excellence Survey in the May 3, 2004 issue.

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