PR will "come into its own" in 2015, Richmond Towers' Rob Metcalfe tells PRCA conference

PR agencies will "come into their own" this year to challenge advertising and digital agencies, Richmond Towers MD Rob Metcalfe told a conference hosted by the PRCA.

PRWeek's John Harrington (standing) with David Harold, Imagination Technologies; Andrew Geldard, Willmott Dixon; Rob Metcalfe, Richmond Towers; and John Lonsdale, Octopus
PRWeek's John Harrington (standing) with David Harold, Imagination Technologies; Andrew Geldard, Willmott Dixon; Rob Metcalfe, Richmond Towers; and John Lonsdale, Octopus

Speaking at a panel session hosted by PRWeek deputy editor John Harrington, Metcalfe said: "I think it’s going be a year, or indeed a future, where PR agencies can actually come into their own, and begin to challenge the confidence of advertising agencies and digital agencies.

"I think PR agencies are uniquely placed to have a broader perspective across the comms scene. Ad agencies don’t understand editorial. Digital agencies don’t understand communication. But the PR agencies do, and they have an opportunity to seize the high ground."

However, speaking at the conference, hosted at the Westminster office of PR recruitment consultancy Ellwood Atfield, Metcalfe warned PR agencies about moving too fast with new techniques at the expense of clients’ needs.

"I think there’s a danger of stepping into the future before the future’s arrived, for a lot of agencies," he said.

"A lot of big brands have huge budgets to spend on social media. Most of our clients aren’t big brands, most agencies aren’t big brands. They need a more pragmatic solution, something that’s rooted in now and what you can do today rather than what you can do in six months' time.

"There’s a danger that we become too far ahead of the market in terms of what we can provide."

Meanwhile, during the panel session, which focused on client challenges and needs for 2015, Octopus CEO Jon Lonsdale said retainers were "dead" in the PR world. The agency is seldom appointed on a retainer now, he added.

Metcalfe agreed, highlighting the move towards a "managed service model", where agencies are given contract terms with KPIs. "That’s the way I think the industry’s going to head, scary though it is for some," he said.

Metcalfe also said PRs were "chronically bad at giving creative ideas away".

Lonsdale said he was "absolutely staggered" by what some PRs were achieving for the money. Having judged entries to the PRWeek Awards, he said some agencies produced results for a £10,000 budget that for a full service agency would cost £500,000.

David Harold, director of marketing comms at Imagination Technologies, revealed that of the company's £3m marketing and comms budget, around £500,000 to £600,000 is spent on PR.

"Does that reflect the value of PR in the wider mix? I don’t know, some things are just expensive – events are expensive, for example."

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