For several years back in the mid-2000s, our agency had a superb relationship with one of the leading interactive agencies in the world. We'd regularly get a call from our contacts there: “Hey, we're pitching (huge brand), you guys wanna tag along? We'll do the cool, sexy, digital stuff, and you guys can handle the social media and PR stuff.”
Better yet, sometimes this big interactive agency had already won the business, and they literally just pulled us into the mix, no pitch required.
We landed some big names on the roster thanks to this partnership, some of which continue to this day. As you can imagine, we were highly appreciative. It was never a primary lead source for us; more like a bluebird that would occasionally wing through the transom. And who doesn't like a bluebird?
One day, I noticed that it had been a while since we'd fielded a call from our big interactive brethren. Months upon months had passed. It was time for a ping.
“Heya, what's up, haven't heard from you guys in 6 months or so…?”
“Oh, hey, yeah, sorry, I have been meaning to call you. The decision was made to start hiring PR people to serve as an in-house client-service bureau.”
Translation: in addition to competing with our typical set of PR and social media agencies, we'd now be contending with big interactive agencies, as well.
I'd never worried overmuch about those ad agencies who offered up PR services. In my experience, the PR pros who worked within ad agencies tended to focus on getting ink for the creative campaigns themselves, rather than focus on broader relationship-building strategies. However, I did know the folks at our erstwhile big interactive agency partner to be pretty savvy, and I could see them using in-house social media expertise as a legitimate segue to more traditional PR retainers.
Epiphany #2 boiled down to this: if interactive agencies think there's something to be gained by hiring PR people, it might be just as likely that PR agencies could build up digital resources to allow us to compete for assignments that drew from a larger marketing budget than “just” corporate communications.
Keep in mind that this was a few years ago, and I certainly wasn't the only one to have this thought. Indeed, in the last few years, we've all seen the bigger shops like Edelman, Waggener Edstrom, Weber Shandwick, etc., invest heavily in this arena. They had the financial resources, even through the Great Recession, to kickstart the hybridization of PR, digital, and social media… and in my experience, the “blow up the silos” mentality endorsed by social media's rise has given clients permission to hire whoever seems smartest across these disciplines. It's a big opportunity (discussed in PRWeek's own Marketing Issue this February). And with the recession in the rearview mirror, mid-size agencies like ours can increasingly get in on the action.
But how will we differentiate? Stay tuned for Epiphany #3.
Todd Defren is CEO of Shift Communications.