Guirguis to PR pros: Get over yourselves and show your value

PR pros should stop bellyaching about redefining themselves and fighting turf wars with rival agencies, MSLGroup's U.S. CEO said at the Critical Issues Forum. Instead, they should prove their value to clients.

MSLGroup's Ron Guirguis
MSLGroup's Ron Guirguis

NEW YORK: The PR industry does not need a rebranding of its own, according to 83% of the audience members at the PR Council’s Critical Issues Forum in New York.

Two-thirds (66%) said that if it did change its name, the most suitable new industry title would be "strategic communications."

However, some industry leaders said worrying about that is a waste of time.

MSLGroup U.S. CEO Ron Guirguis said the industry’s main goal should be solving clients’ business problems and recognizing and demonstrating its value to clients every day.

"Stop trying to bloody well differentiate what PR pros do as a genuine expertise," he said at the event. "Get over ourselves. It is so bloody frustrating, this navel gazing and, ‘Oh we are the sorry second stepchild and can’t we just get the strategic seat at the table?’ Cut it out."

Guirguis added that PR pros need to stop fighting with each other and with creative, marketing, and digital agencies because "the client doesn’t want the fight."

Saying the PR industry is moving into a specialist model, Golin CEO Fred Cook compared it to the Mayo Clinic, noting that it has a variety of experts in different areas. Some communications pros may be great at design, while others may excel at production or media. Yet because PR pros handle so many different things requiring various skills, the trade is becoming harder to define, he said.

"PR used to be thought of as publicity, and now we do so many different things that it is difficult for us to talk about in a way that people can relate to – specifically, what this domain expertise is," said Cook.

The industry risks losing its identity if it changes its name, he added. Instead, PR pros should redefine PR.

Sara Kalick, GM at SYPartners, outlined the disruptive forces the PR industry is facing, such as startups gaining momentum, resulting in the undervaluation of the products and services PR firms are selling and the eventual loss of share of spend and the strategic seat at the table. There’s also the fight for talent and the need for new skills. 

"What you are seeing are calcified structures and ways of working and incentive systems that make it hard to change and make it hard for you to want to see the change that is necessary," Kalick said.

To respond, agencies must first recognize that change is required. 

"I think the debate about whether or not this is earned influence or comms or integrated comms is a little bit of wagging the dog," she said. "This isn’t about having a better slogan, but being true to why you exist in the world."

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