Conveying PR smarts as digital know-how

For me, one of the most exciting things in agency life is the new business process.

For me, one of the most exciting things in agency life is the new business process. The “pitches,” as we so affectionately call them, range from full-on presentations with a company you might have never met before to an opportunity with an existing client looking to extend your relationship. While exciting, it's also daunting, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. For me, nowadays, it's far less stage fright and far more being able to convey how those of us with strongly woven PR and digital skill sets are the ones to select to handle social and mobile activities for that organization or brand, as opposed to advertising or dedicated digital options.

Recently, I relayed a story to a few colleagues about a new business meeting in which I was involved. We were asked to come in with a wide range of concepts that touched digital in creative ways. One of our ideas was a mobile application – something this company wasn't at all new to, having released a few of their own in prior years. While the audience in the room appreciated the concept and it meshed well with our campaign and promotional activities, that conversation may have been “lost” simply because they didn't see how a team of PR pros, even those with a long history of working with digital brands, software companies, mobile phone providers, publishers, and more, were the right people to be suggesting a mobile application as part of an execution to reach a particular audience.

Wow, really?

This wasn't a stunt. It wasn't a situation where someone said, “We must have a mobile app!” in a brainstorm. It was our solid understanding of who the audience was and what kinds of activities would get their attention and keep them interested in what the brand had to offer. And we knew how to get it done, market it, and make it work.

My first reaction was thinking that this savvy organization was pegging us as all media relations with a hint of digital, but that wasn't the case. They were honestly surprised to be hearing from us about something that perhaps other “mobile-only” shops hadn't conveyed to them. It didn't mean we were wrong, it might have just meant we were ahead of the game when it came to that conversation.

How do we fix that? To some extent, this is an evolving story, as I'm not the only person I know at a PR firm with strong digital chops who's experienced this. As nice as that is to hear, it means we've all got work to do.

This doesn't mean we all need to have a fully baked creative shop or mobile development team on staff, but it does mean we should be prepared to have “partners in crime” that can bake up great demo work that we should invest in as part of the new business process. It means we should trust our instincts as being the team that can have the best idea when it comes to a mobile service and team up with the partners that may not have access to the same new business opportunities.

This isn't about the supposedly ongoing “war” between types of agencies within the marketing discipline. It's about the grey area in which we're all working in 2011 and beyond. It will only continue to get foggier. We as PR pros are uniquely qualified to show just how well our award-winning ideas translate to the services, tools, and activities our clients want to use more and more.

Tom Biro is a VP at the Seattle office of Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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