It's official: PR agencies can win media accounts

The shift away from big-budget media buying on broadcast and in print is just one example of the opening up of a world of new integrated opportunities for PR firms.

Tempting as it is to write about The Dress today, as the whole of the rest of the Web seems to be talking about it (it’s black and blue by the way), I’m instead going to focus on convergence and opportunities for PR agencies.

The stimulus for this was the news that Spotify has handed its media account to Dentsu subsidiary 360i, rather than sticking with a traditional media agency such as Starcom, which the music-streaming service used to use.

The rationale from the client is that its audience primarily exists online and that is where its media should be placed to engage its audience. There is little need for Spotify to buy spots in the traditional areas of TV and print where the heavyweight deal-making of media agency behemoths such as WPP’s GroupM comes into its own.

On digital and social, agencies such as 360i and PR agencies are now just as able to service media planning and buying client needs. In fact, they have to be au fait with the full range of paid, earned, shared, and owned media online to put together a compelling and effective campaign. For example, nothing works on Facebook these days without a serious paid media element.

Spotify and other brands that have eschewed the traditional media agency route hardly represent the biggest accounts in the marketing world. But this is still an encouraging trend for the PR sector, as a lot of growth at the major agencies is coming from social, digital, and integrated marketing, either as organic incremental work with existing clients, or as new business assignments.

This trend is mirrored on the client side, as PR specialists such as Bonin Bough take on the lead media role at global mega-brand owners such as Mondelez International.

It’s all part of the global melting pot of converging marketing disciplines and integration. And marketers are increasingly recognizing what PR firms can bring to the table in terms of navigating digital platforms and strategies – it’s ultimately all about storytelling, and that has been PR’s natural milieu forever.

Of course, it works the other way too – and media agencies are not taking this lying down. They are embracing the content marketing world that PR firms see as their territory.

A couple of weeks ago, Starcom’s holding company Publicis announced its intention to buy French content news platform Relaxnews for $17 million. Relaxnews provides leisure news and content for media, brands, e-commerce Web sites, and blogs.

But, rather than putting it in its PR function at MSLGroup, for example, Publicis will locate Relaxnews in its other media network, Zenith. The plan is to combine digital with content to produce "synergies between these two pillars [that] will transform media platforms for the benefit of our clients," said Sébastien Danet, global managing partner at ZenithOptimedia.

Over at the other French agency holding company, Havas, the Media Group has partnered with content marketing platform NewsCred to enable access to 5,000 publishers, including the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, the BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, The Economist, The Guardian, Gawker and New York Magazine.

NewsCred’s cloud-based software will help Havas clients manage the creation and production of content.

Advertising firms are getting in on the PR, content, and integration act too. Interpublic Group ad agency Mullen is shortlisted for its work with American Greetings in three categories of the 2015 PRWeek US Awards, which will be presented in New York City on March 19. Last year, Mullen added PR duties to its advertising account with Zappos, following a competitive pitch.

You can be sure the advertising community will continue to make an aggressive play for this converged business.

The lines are blurring and the prize is there for the winning.

PR agencies clearly have the skill sets and the storytelling heritage to prosper in this new integrated environment.

But they have to be bold and grasp the opportunity while it is there and before it is wrestled from their grasp by their peers in media, advertising, and digital.

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