'PR agencies need to catch up' - agency of the future debated at PR360

With huge changes in marcoms afoot, what will PR agencies look like in the years to come? That's one topic up for discussion at PRWeek's must-attend PR360 conference this month.

Top panelists: M&C Saatchi PR CEO Molly Aldridge and Freuds chief Arlo Brady
Top panelists: M&C Saatchi PR CEO Molly Aldridge and Freuds chief Arlo Brady

The event takes place on 19 and 20 April at London’s County Hall. This year's theme is 'Making PR Vital' – click here for details and to book tickets.

The event features a panel debate on 20 April, moderated by PRWeek editor-in-chief Danny Rogers, entitled: What will the agency of the future look like? It includes a selection of top industry experts:

  • Michael Frohlich, CEO, Ogilvy UK
  • Rachel Friend, UK CEO, Weber Shandwick 
  • Arlo Brady, CEO, Freuds 
  • Molly Aldridge, CEO & co-founder, M&C Saatchi PR
  • Stef Jones, creative partner, Big Al’s Creative Emporium

PRWeek caught up with some of them ahead of PR360 to get their views, and also gets a client-side view.

Arlo Brady, CEO, Freuds

What has been the biggest game changer for PR agencies over the last 12 months?

"There is so much change today in the marketing world that 12 months ago feels like more like five years in old money. PR agencies need to catch up, and get out in front. Whereas previously agencies were parachuted in, we’re now more like commercial partners for clients.

"There are people and product implications to this acceleration, but perhaps more importantly our industry needs to scratch its head and consider purpose and values seriously. The spectacular collapse of Bell Pottinger has to be a game changer, and a warning of the existential risk that exists for agencies, as well as clients, if some of us choose to sail too close to the wind."

How should agencies evolve and adapt to better service clients?

"Agencies are almost singularly reliant on the quality of their people, the depth and breadth of their thinking, and their creativity. Brand clearly plays a role, and we are lucky because we have one of the best-known brands in the business.

"But investing in our talent, and making sure they can work in a dynamic, fluid and flexible environment is the only way to evolve and better service clients. Everything else we might want to do is consequential to the war for talent that we have chosen to start."

Molly Aldridge, CEO, M&C Saatchi PR

What has been the biggest game changer for PR agencies over the last 12 months?

"Earned media becoming more and more important to the C-Suite. Many marketing budgets are now prioritising earned/social over more traditional advertising campaigns. [That's a] big game changer for PRs to lead marketing strategies and audience engagement programmes through earned storytelling lens – what comes with that is more data-driven insight and measurement playing a pivotal role in next 12 months."

How should agencies evolve and adapt to better service clients?

"We’re going through an evolution not a revolution. Agencies need to support clients more on their customer journey and how to increase influence across the right audience and stakeholders - and ultimately their bottom line. Understanding the brand’s audience in more detail and planning strategies that provide awareness, engagement and conversion which can be measured effectively will be key. This may become the 'test & learn' year working closely with trusted clients that want to try new ways of engaging their audience groups - measuring and learning as we go."

Stef Jones, co-founder, Big Al's Creative Emporium

How should agencies evolve and adapt to better service clients?

"By servicing their clients instead of themselves. Cut out everything that doesn’t serve the client’s needs and charge more for the bits that do. That’ll mean smaller agencies with better people and simpler processes. But how do you know who the ‘better people’ are? Or more importantly, how do you know who will ‘better service the clients’?

"Shut the agency.

"Closed.

"Finished.

"Gone.

"No more.

"Then send the clients the staff phone list and see who they call.

"Then let those who get a call pull together their team around them."

And finally...

Barnaby Dawe, CMO at JustEat, who is also speaking at PR360, offers his views from a client perspective:

What role does PR have in the marcomms mix at Just Eat?

"PR is an integral part of our marketing mix and has helped build our brand and made it famous. PR also helps grow and protect our reputation as a plc. PR helps amplify the marketing messages and generates talkability and sharability in a way that paid marketing channels can't always do.

"It is increasingly important for comms teams to understand the customer base and use segmentation to help define their media strategy. Our team always strive to extend their reach beyond traditional media and treat digital channels as equally effective tools."

How should agencies evolve and adapt to better service clients?

"Understanding the challenges a client's business faces and sharing in the commercial pain and gain. We're a high growth business and we like working with agencies who are as brave, agile and entrepreneurial as we are.

"And often, simplicity is key - be that strategy or execution. Sometimes agencies make things too convoluted so that the point of what they're trying to achieve gets lost."

Click to book tickets for PR360

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