Paving the road to a better year for the entire industry

Don't look back; it's not a pretty sight. 2002 was a difficult year in general, but many PR firms found it even more challenging than they expected. The long and multi-layered new-business events, client budget cuts, new-business wins that never produced any revenue, and bloody procurement budget battles.

Don't look back; it's not a pretty sight. 2002 was a difficult year in general, but many PR firms found it even more challenging than they expected. The long and multi-layered new-business events, client budget cuts, new-business wins that never produced any revenue, and bloody procurement budget battles.

When the agency rankings are published in April, we will see that many firms took a hit, and the industry as a whole will be down more than it was in 2001. While the economy contributed to some of this belt-tightening, we probably just lived through a sea-change in the public relations business.

What does that mean for 2003? Firms need to focus on providing value, working smarter, understanding the client (and his or her needs) better, and offering solid counsel. For those who do, the revenue will be there.

According to the "PR GAP (Generally Accepted Practices)" study, sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms and conducted by USC Annenberg's Strategic Public Relations Center, the number-one reason clients use a PR firm is for its "strategic and market insight." Agencies aren't used instead of an internal staff, but in addition to it, because of the perspective, objectivity, and experience a firm can provide.

The GAP study also reports that clients need support to demonstrate the value of PR. Some corporations, especially those with larger PR budgets, are moving toward "value-added" measurements like crisis mitigation.

However, many are still using advertising equivalency.

The industry faces many challenges in the coming year. How will the Council of PR Firms address them?

One goal is to show clients and new-business prospects the value provided by PR agencies. We're enhancing our website to spotlight members and improve the site's "Find-a-Firm" section. And we will promote these features to drive more traffic to the site.

We are a voice for the industry as relevant issues emerge during the year. For example, we will comment on the Nike case as the US Supreme Court debates this important First Amendment issue. We are reaching out to the business media, in addition to the trade media, to cover the industry.

Plus, we're encouraging involvement in MBA programs to reach future clients.

For agency CEOs and senior managers, we will provide benchmark data and seek ways to save member firms money. We have streamlined the number of member surveys in order to make it easier for agencies to participate. We will continue these monthly PRWeek columns to showcase committee activities and industry issues. We will offer members the opportunity to participate on committees dealing with topics important to their firms: agency management, client services, talent, HR roundtable, CFO roundtable, academic relations, and government relations.

The schedule of committee meetings will be posted on the website. We will also provide opportunities for members to exchange ideas both through regional meetings and special national programs.

Of course, we always welcome new firms interested in joining the Council, which represents agencies of all sizes, specialties, and areas of the US. We highly value the input of our diverse membership.

To illustrate our 2003 agenda, below are some upcoming Council activities:

January: PR Coalition Summit Meeting; Business development seminar in Atlanta

February: New booklet available - Working with Your Public Relations Firm

March: Ranking forms deadline; benchmark study; Innovation Forum for members; Council's annual report

April: Rankings released

May: Client advisory committee

June: Economic annual report

July: 2Q Quick Survey

August/September: Relaunch of "Find-a-Firm"

October: 3Q Quick Survey; ICCO summit meeting in Berlin

November: Annual member meeting

December: 4Q Quick Survey

The mission of the Council of Public Relations Firms is to strengthen the recognition and role of public relations firms in corporate strategy, business performance, and social education; to serve as an authoritative source of information and expert comment; and to help set standards for the industry. For information about the Council and its members, please visit www.prfirms.org or call 1-877-PRFIRMS (1-877-773-4767).

- This column is contributed and paid for by The Council of PR Firms.

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