PR firms can avoid la la land by bringing big ideas to the table

PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett on the agency model's uncertain and evolving future.

The role of agencies in marketing and communications is one of the most fascinating and fast-evolving issues of our time: Disciplines are converging, social media has changed the game, PR skills are central to the mix, and clients are forcing change at a faster pace than agencies are prepared for.

The model is in danger of breaking and structures that worked historically and were nice and profitable for agencies no longer address client needs.

The world’s highest-profile agency boss, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, told PRWeek Asia last month: "PR companies are doing more work around social media and digital, and hiring more creative people, [but] those who tell you they are taking on advertising agencies on their own are living in la la land."

He says they can compete as part of an integrated pitch, and "might well be involved, but not on their own." But does this tally with the client point of view? 

On a visit to Yokohama, Japan, recently I interviewed Roel de Vries, corporate VP and global head of marketing and brand strategy at Nissan. He told me PR agencies are indeed at the table – in the middle and on top of what is going on.

He explained how the automaker needs to integrate marketing and communications while keeping individual discipline expertise and making sure they work together effectively. He said big ideas are more important than ever for brands and they’ll come from people who sit at the center of the process.

Our special feature this month analyzes how PR and other firms can avoid la la land and situate themselves firmly in the middle of that conversation.

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