PR is modernising rapidly but business models must keep up

The findings of the #FuturePRoof project reveal an innovative UK PR industry in rude health, but billing models may have to change to keep clients happy.

There’s a gap between the traditional agency model and clients’ demands, writes Francis Ingham
There’s a gap between the traditional agency model and clients’ demands, writes Francis Ingham

The #FuturePRoof project, developed as a think-tank for the PRCA and ICCO, has this month broken new ground in revealing just what PR agencies need to do to change.

The latest white paper, Exploring the Public Relations Agency, saw 17 agency leaders contribute, sharing insights into ways they are innovating in response to the dual drivers of client requirements and media change.

The three-month project has been led by Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum, and Sarah Hall, MD of Sarah Hall Consulting and #FuturePRoof editor.

First, the good news: as an industry, we are modernising rapidly. We are embracing new skills in data, research and paid media, and investing in creative teams. Profits are buoyant and the market is growing healthily.

However – and here comes the less good news – one area in which there remains little innovation is billing. We continue to be chained to the old structure of fees charged by the hour, albeit on a retainer or project basis.

While it is extremely gratifying to see that the PR consultancy world is making leaps forward in embracing new skills, we clearly have a lot to do to find appropriate business models to sell our offering to clients.

So I urge all owners and directors to pay close attention to the white paper – it could help you take your billing model to the next evolutionary level.

Here are some significant areas of change identified by the report:

Value

PR is outsmarting rival disciplines through innovation. It is helping clients to build better organisations. Therein lies its future, and huge value.

Drivers of innovation

Clients, shareholders and staff are the three drivers pushing agency owners to build better businesses. That can only be a good thing.

Opportunity

There’s a gap between the traditional agency business model and clients’ modern demands. Smart agencies are building businesses in this space.

Billing models

Agencies are simple businesses that are well understood by clients. Inn-ovative business models threaten clarity and risk confusion.

Service innovation

Core services within a modern agency include storytelling, creative and content, as well as paid, earned and shared media, as they shift from traditional media and publicity-based services.

Our next major research piece, the PR Census 2016, has been launched by PRWeek and the PRCA to provide the definitive overview of UK PR. 

I hope you all took part.

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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