PR is now a stable force in a world of volatility

Basically, the future of PR and public affairs is bright and different and better than at any time in the past.

Basically, the future of PR and public affairs is bright and different and better than at any time in the past. The new era that we have entered - which values information, ability, and integration - has created new opportunities for communicators.

WPP brands include Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, RLM Finsbury, Buchanan, Hering Schuppener, and Clarion Communications, among others. They are growing well this year at more than 5% and what we call PR and public affairs now accounts for about $1.3 billion, almost 10% of WPP's $16 billion of revenues.

What has enabled this to happen? Why have our PR and public affairs sectors gained importance? Why have they not been as vulnerable as other disciplines to cyclical economic forces? They seem to be much more stable and less volatile.

These days, PR and public affairs are much more about what you know rather than who you know. It is true that connections are still important, but the days of the big black Cadillacs, tuxedos, and flowers to client's partners are, thankfully, mostly long gone. Now, it is more about knowledge, information, and strategic and creative thinking.

Furthermore, the development of digital and interactive channels has advanced opportunities for the PR industry. The personal computer, mobile devices and smartphones, video content and social networks, and all the innovations that are still to come from entrepreneurs who are toiling in garages in Beijing, Bangalore, and San Paolo, as well as Silicon Valley, provide PR practitioners myriad channels with which to demonstrate the importance of editorial publicity.

We all know that if we can get someone to write or say something good in editorial content, particularly in a trusted newspaper or magazine or on a respected television channel, this will be more effective than placing a paid-for advertisement next to the content. In addition, the self-development or influence in the development of all forms of content has grown to become even more important as media channels have become increasingly fragmented.

There are also, for example, questions about whether social networks are effective in delivering commercial messages. Do friends or fans appreciate commercial intrusion when they are effectively writing modern-form letters to their friends or fans?

In addition, PR and public affairs benefit from the more intense, cost-conscious post-Lehman world in which clients now operate, as well as a generally low-growth, low-inflation environment. Appearing to be absolutely cheaper, and now more measurable and effective, PR offers a lower-cost alternative.

Finally, in a world where clients are increasingly centralizing their communications while at the same time tailoring their outreach to deal with local differences, government relations, CSR, education, research and development, and PR are a crucial part of an integrated approach.

Effectively, new client-oriented firms are being built within legacy agencies and parent/holding companies, which place a premium on cooperation and deflate ego, turf, territory, and self-importance. Leveraging knowledge throughout the client and its agencies is the new approach. Not reinventing the wheel and learning from one another's experience and knowledge is the new culture.

This new era of valuing information and ability, appreciating digital expertise, recognizing effectiveness and efficiency, and last but not least, championing integration has created a new opportunity and manifesto for PR and public affairs.

Sir Martin Sorrell joined WPP, the world's largest advertising and marketing services group, in 1986 and has been CEO since then. Collectively, it employs more than 153,000 people in 2,400 offices in 107 countries. In 2010, WPP posted billings of $66 billion and revenues of approximately $16 billion. Its worldwide companies include JWT, Ogilvy Group, Y&R, Grey Group, Kantar, MEC, and Mindshare.

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