From the editor-in-chief: international expansion is good, but skills gap in PR agencies more worrying

This year has kicked off with a wave of agency mergers and acquisitions, which I would argue highlights some core questions facing anyone who works in professional communications today.

Edelman bought mid-sized British agency 3 Monkeys and merged it with its Zeno operation, Freuds tried again to crack America with the purchase of tech-focused Brew Media Relations, along with several other mergers.

Are we seeing smaller shops ‘cashing in’ on PR’s newfound appeal? Was this a case of big consultancies buying just to be, er, bigger, driven by power and ego?

There is some truth in both these theories (PR consultancies, after all, are run by ambitious, emotional, fallible human beings) but more strategic forces are also at work.

Consultancies are driven by growth, which can often be found outside one’s core geography. But this growth is driven by clients demanding the ability to run their campaigns internationally, and with consistent, cost-effective impact across the globe.

The encouraging thing is that corporations are dem­anding this of ‘PR’ agencies. It shows that they believe in these networks’ essential ability to play a core role in major campaigns. Indeed many of the January acquisitions also demonstrate the necessity for consultancies to diversify further into creative content, paid and owned media.

Of course there are challenges to agencies expanding geographically and integrating their skills. And this Int­ernational Expansion issue of PRWeek looks hard at these operational issues.

The good news is ‘PR’ spend is growing. The best people in the comms business are being tested as never before. The marketing world is moving in the direction of the industry’s core skills: content-led, conversational campaigning.

The bad news is these demands lay bare deficiencies within PR consultancies. Even with these mergers and acquisitions there is a question whether PR businesses possess the creative, planning, data and digital firepower to win over chief marketing officers in the long run, and continue to take work from advertising, media and specialist digital agencies. This will dominate the industry agenda in 2016.

Equally worrying is the growing ageism in this business, leading to a brain drain among the over-40s, particularly in the UK.

If PR consultancies are to lead the marketing mix and justify bigger budgets, they must tie in experienced operators, who bring the necessary perspective, gravitas and leadership required.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief


This article comes from the February edition of PRWeek UK.

Click to read the full range of features, analysis and opinion on international expansion, along with the case studies on nine agencies' expansion plans.

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