PR agencies are facing up to a growing threat from the advertising sector after the car giant this week picked MindShare to handle search engine optimisation (SEO), digital PR and social media strategy.
Volvo UK head of PR Duncan Forrester told PRWeek the decision was influenced by the inability of PR agencies to effectively influence, for example, a brand’s Google ranking through SEO expertise.
‘We have ended up with a marketing agency doing PR activities, but I am confident it can deliver on the brief,’ said Forrester. ‘It is very clear that social media actually feeds into the SEO side of the business. Can a PR agency do SEO as well? I think there are question marks around that.’
The decision has prompted one digital PR agency chief to publicly voice her fears for the industry’s survival.
‘The advertising industry is focusing its guns on PR budget, so our industry is def-initely at a crossroads,’ said Katy Howell, MD at digital PR agency Immediate Future. ‘We must step up, educate our clients and widen our reach to include marketing and digital departments.
‘If we do not, there is every likelihood that the PR industry will not exist in five years. We will become a commodity within the bigger, more powerful, media and advertising organisations.’
But scepticism remains over whether media agencies, which buy space based on reach and frequency metrics, can effectively offer PR skills such as third-party endorsement and dialogue.
‘Have they got the PR experience?’ asked former Engine Group digital specialist Dave King, now CEO at digital firm Digitalis. ‘Because you need to understand tone of voice and positioning.’
Both Forrester and MindShare business director Carolyn Watt dismissed these concerns. ‘Just because we are a media agency does not mean we don’t understand the power of PR,’ said Watt, who has hired two PROs for her team.
How I see it
Global digital head, Porter Novelli
Media agencies hear the phrase social media and think ‘we can buy that’. That is a big mistake. Smart PR agencies see it as protecting a client’s reputation online. There is no way in hell a media agency is incentivised to look at those things. It is a battlefield and media agencies are getting in there.
Business director, MindShare
The role of SEO as part of an integrated digital PR and social media solution is about how we take a client brand and establish its presence in the digital space. It allows you to put an ROI measurement on something PR agencies have traditionally found difficult to measure.
87% Proportion of web journeys that start with a search
40% Chance of a web user visiting site if it ranks first in Google
66% People who click on a natural search listing over a paid one
2 Number of PR executives in MindShare’s social media unit
55% UK companies expecting to increase SEO budget this year