Billions of dollars of spend are in play as a raft of brands put their media accounts up for pitch – and it’s all part of a trend that could ultimately spell good news for PR firms.
While media agencies cut each others’ throats and dash themselves on the rocks of corporate procurement departments, PR firms can showcase their expertise and demonstrate why they are better equipped to provide clients effectiveness and value in the hotly contested digital and native content spaces.
Companies including Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen, Visa, Sony, Coca-Cola, General Mills, and many more have been reviewing their media agencies, a trend that has garnered attention from mainstream and industry media.
Industry execs have differing opinions on the influx of reviews. Some believe it’s the shift to digital (a number of brands pulled Super Bowl commercials this year); others think it’s cost-cutting (Procter & Gamble cut its traditional ad spend by 14% in 2014 and aims to save $500 million in agency spend).
Either way, comms pros believe the media reviews provide good opportunities for PR agencies to show their true colors.
Over the last couple of years, companies have been increasingly integrating marketing and communications into one, with some merging the CMO and CCO positions. For example, both Visa and FedEx have combined the two functions into one group, and IBM and Procter & Gamble have their marketing and communications departments report in to one executive.
The lines continue to blur in these spaces, and what’s even hazier is where the budgets sit for native advertising and digital content: They seem up for grabs.
During a panel last year for New York’s International Association of Business Communicators, I said sponsored content and native ads should be managed by PR.
Some marketers in the crowd disagreed, since the space is paid not earned. But to me, it makes more sense for it to sit within communications, which has built its heritage on storytelling and engaging consumers with meaningful content.
On the digital side, companies have been turning more to online videos as part of their campaigns.
Take Heineken’s Newcastle brand, which won a Silver Cannes Lion in 2014 for its cheeky If We Made It online Super Bowl program. Newcastle’s films were created by ad agency Droga5, but many PR and social firms are also producing videos for clients, such as Ketchum subsidiary Zócalo Group, which developed Nissan’s recent Altima Chase activation.
One comms exec I spoke with this week said PR agencies, which have no shortage of video talent, are perfect candidates for the online content space because, unlike traditional ads, more experimentation can go into digital. Also, budgets are smaller online, so more risks can be taken and videos can be published much quicker to keep pace with newsworthy events.
PR agencies tell me they’re being pulled in by clients more than ever for paid efforts, especially in digital, because they’re more affordable and agile than their advertising and digital peers.
Another comms pro told me that instead of clients solely focusing on saving money, they’re now concentrating on spending more wisely across all PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) channels and getting measureable results. Earned, shared, and owned are catching up to paid as brands continue to pay equal attention to each of the function’s benefits and efficiencies.
To keep up with this, the PR industry should continue making strides in adopting standards, like the work done by 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense), a cross-industry collective that works together to define metrics and solutions.
PR firms won’t sneak in and win the major media reviews – buying massive TV and print campaigns really aren’t their business. But they do have the chance to show brands why shifting budget spend from traditional to modern channels is the smarter option.
The money might not be the same, but building strong, credible relationships with clients could be worth way more down the line. And it makes sense for brands too because they’ll see results, engage consumers, and save money along the way. It’s win–win on both sides.