Views from the top

Martin Sorrell, John Wren, Michael Roth, and Maurice Levy provide exclusive Op-Eds to PRWeek about how holding companies see the PR business

Maurice Lévy
CEO and chairman, Publicis Groupe

Speed. Innovation. Collaboration. These are three very simple, yet very powerful words that were critical in the explosive growth of the communications industry over the last 10 years. They will also be critical to ensuring its future success.

The public relations business has made tremendous strides over the last 10 years. You can see these changes reflected in PRWeek's pages over the years: Traditional, one-sided print media relations campaigns have given way to online conversations with multiple constituencies. Creative, buzz-building campaigns with little ROI have now been replaced by creative, buzz-building campaigns that have a direct, measurable impact on our clients' business and financial goals. And the industry's expertise in reaching important segments of the population, both on-line and off-line, is invaluable to our clients. The influence and impact of public relations has become very hard to ignore.

In many ways, the future of the public relations industry mirrors that of the advertising world: It is very bright, limitless, even, and there will be tremendous opportunities for the industry to grow, particularly when it comes to digital communications. The key to future success for all of us will be the constant evolution of what we do and how we work. While we might expect our client issues to remain the same – reputation, brand building, connecting with consumers, being authentic and credible, for example – we should not apply that same expectation to our solutions. To stay ahead and achieve success for our clients' businesses, public relations will need to constantly and consistently explore, change, be imaginative and use new talents to find the best solutions in this new digital world.

Happy anniversary, PRWeek. We are looking forward to many more years of leadership and success.

Publicis Groupe - Agencies include: MS&L; Freud Communications; Publicis Consultants PR

Michael Roth
CEO and Chairman, Interpublic Group

As we all mark this important date for PRWeek, there's never been a better time to consider the changes that the public relations industry has undergone and the very bright future it has in an increasingly fragmented and tech-driven marketing landscape.

In its first phase of development, PR had to establish its credentials as a formal communications practice and distance itself from the early days of press agents and publicity stunts. Look-alike contests, flagpole sitting, Rockefeller's famous dimes – those activities had been intended to create excitement or news value at any price. Back then, the inherent qualities of a marketer's product didn't matter, nor was PR activity aligned with the strategic objectives of the client and its brands. The successful professionalization of public relations is not a topic about which this publication's readers need to be educated, though the efforts of PR industry leaders and practitioners over the past 50 years must be acknowledged. Many who played a role in this important transformation are still active and should be commended for their contributions.

As marketing services evolved, becoming increasingly sophisticated and global, the role of public relations grew commensurately. Consolidation in our business led to the acquisition of PR firms by leading holding companies, which many people decried at the time. Yet in this new arena, the role of PR rose to a new level of prominence, from that of an executional function (often treated as a commodity) into one that provides valued counsel and helps to drive and define corporate reputations. As such, PR plays an increasingly strategic role in the overall communications mix. This has led to the development of greater specialization, new practice areas, and the opportunity for robust growth in the industry. As a result, I can say with pride that the strong performance of our PR agencies has and continues to contribute significantly to the overall growth at Interpublic.

Public relations has done well to “credentialize” itself, expand globally, develop breadth in its service offerings, and ultimately move upstream within client organizations. PR is now poised to capitalize on the key trends that are re-shaping the nature of the conversations our clients must have with consumers in order to succeed in today's world. The immediacy and community provided by emerging digital platforms, particularly social media, is tailor-made for some of PR's most powerful attributes. Listening, involving third parties, building consensus – these are things at which PR excels. And they are precisely what our clients need at this time and in this new world. Digital media will also increasingly engage consumers in deep dialogue, promote transparency, and foster trust. Again, PR people have the right tools and skill set to take a leadership role in this fast-growth area of marketing communications.

So, get ready for a fascinating ride. As interesting and rewarding as PRWeek's first decade has been, the one you are just embarking now on should easily surpass it.

Interpublic Group - Agencies include: Weber Shandwick; GolinHarris; MWW Group; DeVries Public Relations; Bragman Nyman Cafarelli; Rogers & Cowan; Carmichael Lynch Spong, PMK/HBH; The Axis Agency

Martin Sorrell
CEO, WPP Group

We cannot remember a time when our public relations and public affairs businesses were more vibrant. All our firms, whether they be a global or multinational network such as Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy Public Relations, Burson-Marsteller, or Cohn & Wolfe, or the specialist businesses such as Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, Public Strategies, Finsbury, and Buchanan Communications, are performing better than they have ever done before. In our view it is interesting to try and explore the reasons why.

It seems to us that this is driven by two factors.

First, we see the growing importance of data and specifically polling in developing an understanding of key issues and how to deal with them.

Second, the growth of new media and, particularly, social networking have underlined - yet again - the importance of editorial publicity as a means of influencing consumer opinion and understanding. Social networking is really the modern form of letter writing and emphasizes, yet again, that editorial publicity is more powerful and effective than paid-for publicity - a fact that market research has consistently validated.

These two factors together have elevated public relations and public affairs to a level that we believe has not been seen before. Flackery and spin are becoming less effective and public relations and public affairs, as a result of these developments, are becoming more scientific and professional. It is less and less a case of who you know and more and more a case of what you know.

It will be interesting to see how the industry develops further, but our view is that public relations and public affairs will continue to grow consistently at rates not seen before. At this stage of the economic cycle public relations and public affairs used to be in disarray. This does not seem to be the case now. It is becoming an ever more effective marketing skill for our clients.

WPP Group - Agencies include: Burson-Marsteller; Cohn & Wolfe; Hill & Knowlton; Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide; Blanc & Otus; Public Strategies; Quinn Gillespie & Associates; Robinson Lerer & Montgomery; Finsbury; Buchanan Communications

John Wren
CEO and president, Omnicom

The practice of public relations has evolved rapidly in the past decade as media fragmentation continues to accelerate and all forms of communication adapt to a network-based digital world. While traditional corporate communications, media relations, and crisis management remain core capabilities, the challenges are more globally complex, the stakes are bigger, and the rewards to CEOs, corporations, and shareholders are measurably significant.

Public affairs in particular has grown in its value to organizations of all kinds – corporations, associations, NGOs, and even sovereignties – given the need to interact effectively with public policy-makers and advocacy groups. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has long been important as a PR discipline in Europe, but now is crucial to multinational enterprises everywhere that seek shared values among employees, customers, investors, and other constituencies.

In addition, PR has become significantly more important in the marketing mix. At Omnicom our PR firms are increasingly working on integrated teams with their advertising, direct marketing, and other marketing discipline colleagues on behalf of clients to help create and shape the relationship that consumers enjoy with the brand and to accelerate brand growth.

PR is in a constant state of positive change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new social media environment that provides direct communication channels to communities, connecting people with people. Social networks, brand consummates and champions, and word-of-mouth strategies that support brand use and neutralize non-users are fundamental to marketing today. And these approaches are evolving rapidly as digital innovation reveals increasingly relevant and insightful avenues of expression.

In this environment, public relations is a key discipline within the holding company portfolio that can adapt as rapidly as the market adapts. It is a discipline that can lead change – not merely manage it.

Omnicom - Agencies include: Fleishman-Hillard; Ketchum; Porter Novelli; Brodeur Worldwide; Cone; Mercury Public Affairs; Gavin Anderson & Company; BlueCurrent; Clark & Weinstock

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