From the editor-in-chief: The death of PR agencies - as we know them

All the evidence gathered from PRWeek's investigations over the past month points to a couple of crucial conclusions...

Danny Rogers: editor-in-chief of The Brand Republic Group
Danny Rogers: editor-in-chief of The Brand Republic Group

The communications business has substantial growth potential for the foreseeable future; but those involved need to fully understand the new world order and redefine what they do.

Cyclically, the industry has clearly now emerged from the long recession. The top 150 agencies’ average growth may have returned to single digits, but this is on the back of a downturn – and should thus be seen as solid and sensible progress.

That said, growth is potentially threatened by an overriding structural and existential challenge. Attending the recent International Festival of Creativity, I was struck once again by the fact that advertising and PR are increasingly the same thing. And yet, ironically, their reputations remain poles apart. So while leading advertising executives basked in the afterglow of the festival – UK agency adam&eve/DDB deservedly took home 22 Lions – ‘PR’ agencies fared less well, often failing to win even their own category. Worse still, back at home, two of our most notorious ‘PR men’, Max Clifford and Andy Coulson, have been jailed.

There used to be a fundamental difference between the two marketing disciplines. Advertising was about paid-for promotion; TV commercials and billboards. PR was about editorial persuasion; selling stories to journalists. And while the distinction between bought media and earned media still exists, you now find their executives working across both.

So-called advertising agencies are hiring in editorial and social media skills like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile, so-called PR agencies are in a scramble to recruit the creative directors and planners traditionally employed in advertising.

And yet amid this convergence, PR’s reputation for controlling the editorial agenda (involving the tactical, conversational, narrative skills that are so critical) is still misunderstood and viewed as manipulation.

So now is the opportunity for those with earned (media relations) and owned (company websites, magazines or events) media skills to completely rebrand their business. Alongside endeavours to reinvent themselves according to today’s transforming media, they may finally need to cast off those two deadly letters – P and R.

Danny Rogers is editor-in-chief of The Brand Republic Group. See his interview with Edelman head Richard Edelman here. 

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