In my most recent column, CEOs of eight prominent independent PR firms shared their views about the agency of tomorrow. Now it's my turn.
The PR firm of tomorrow will be organized around the delivery and implementation of big ideas to their clients and stakeholders. This will change what PR agencies do and how they describe their services. Some trends have emerged already:
• Disciplines are converging – PR, marketing, advertising, branding.
• Channels are also converging – digital, social, mobile.
• Media are mixing – earned, owned, paid, shared, promoted.
• Platforms are evolving – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Pinterest.
• Clients want one solution – integrated services that solve problems across the enterprise.
• Global brands want partners who know them and know how to help them build relationships everywhere. In other words, clients want their global brands connecting with local audiences.
Convergence means that content will be king and that the PR firm of today and tomorrow can, should, and hopefully will play an increasingly important role in the creation of compelling content, as well as in the production, management, and measurement of that content.
In my view, the PR firm of the future will be centered around “the five I's”: Ideation, Innovation, Indexing, Integration, and Implementation. The separate disciplines of design, branding, video, research, digital, and analytics will continue to be required areas of expertise. Clients will also increasingly want – or shall I say demand? – both integrated solutions and a quantitative and qualitative approach to project management.
These five I's will have significant impact on a variety of key factors:
•Talent. Tomorrow's talent will come from the worlds of software development, statistical analysis, Web analytics, automation technology, project management, multimedia design, and behavioral marketing. Spotting trends and behavioral insights will become even more important as PR firms become agents of ideation and innovation.
At last month's PRWeek Conference, I predicted that it would not be long before PR firms started to hire futurists, as Forbes recently reported has become common in other industries. The day after this prediction, Edelman announced the appointment of Robert Phillips to the new position of global chair, Public Engagement and Future Strategies. This should not be discounted as simply something for large agencies. Considerably smaller firms, including Rachel Kay PR and several other forward-looking and nimble shops, already have “chief imagination officers.” Other agencies, including Voce Communications, V3, Mullen, and Arment Dietrich, are incubating and implementing future-oriented ideas.
•Leadership. Rob Key, founder and CEO of Converseon, has suggested that CMOs at tomorrow's clients will more commonly have a PhD in data analytics. If that is the background tomorrow's CMO requires, just consider what the necessary skills will be for the CEO of tomorrow's PR firm. It will be the consummate combination of the left and right brain – the creative strategist meets the quantitative analyst.
•Agency compensation from clients. An increasing number of firms will develop proprietary tools for gathering and analyzing user data if they are to profit and grow. Ownership of this valuable intellectual property – both the technology and the data itself – will prove a key point of contention between firms and their clients. In addition, more agencies will be paid for ideation and their big ideas, not simply executing an idea in one market for another agency to exploit it in another later on. Both of these points will impact some of the key ownership provisions in the agency-client contracts.
•Competition and consolidation. Competition for PR firms will not just come from other marketing communications disciplines in the land grab for more dollars for the marketing budget. Competition will also come from management-consulting companies and technology companies as PR firms continue to be business strategists with communication expertise designed to enhance and grow businesses.
Accenture describes itself as a “consulting company offering technology services.” It “has comprehensive capabilities across all industries and business functions, as well as research on the world's most successful companies and brands.” Given this focus, it is easy to imagine that major consulting firms are likely to be new entrants in the M&A arena for PR firms.
Some PR firms are already doing what is described in this column, some are preparing to embrace these developments any day now, while other agencies are trying to catch up. For all firms, however, the future is now.
Michael Lasky is a senior partner at the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP, where he heads the PR practice group and co-chairs the litigation department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.