Sector specialism: Short-sighted or just commercially astute?

It's all too easy, when working agency-side or as a part of an in-house communications team, to forget the real drivers that compel a company to engage with PR.

Au contraire! Adam Barber says specialist agencies win out over generalists every time
Au contraire! Adam Barber says specialist agencies win out over generalists every time

Aside from reputation management and the ability to build and shape their profile in the market, companies invest in PR for one primary reason: to create inbound leads and generate commercial interest.


Sector specialism in PR and comms is a short-sighted requirement


However, this is often overlooked in the pitch, where focus slips to getting media hits ‘on the board’ without stopping to question the real value of results gained.

Too often, this produces a campaign that generates reams of irrelevant coverage, none of which is commercially valuable for the client.

Specialist public relations counters this challenge in three key ways: knowledge, contacts, and genuinely ‘fresh thinking’.

Knowledge

Sector specialists know their clients’ markets inside-out. This has two key benefits.

First, the development of content is not reliant on bucket-loads of input from the client company. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. You’re investing in an agency to come in and solve a problem that you’ve identified – namely, a lack of PR and communications. Having made the investment, you want to enable that PR team to operate under some degree of autonomy, right?

Second, the PR team knows which coverage is commercially valuable, and how to get it – and doesn’t bother with anything else. The campaign remains efficient and is fully aligned with commercial objectives.

Contacts

True, contacts aren’t everything. Most journalists, upon receiving a fantastic pitch from an unknown PR, would be inclined to accept the offer. In addition, any generalist PR, lacking sector-specific media contacts, will quickly make them.

However, not all contacts are created equal. A single email exchange can’t compete with the longstanding relationships held by specialist PRs with key target journalists.

Why? Well, as humans, we like a safe bet. For journalists, working with PR professionals they know, and who can be trusted to offer high-quality content, it is always preferable to gambling on the unknown.

A sector-specific team takes years to build up a portfolio of relevant, engaged, and valuable contacts – which breeds market insight, too. For the client, this is valuable.

Fresh thinking

Where generalists are sometimes favoured over specialist PR professionals for their perceived innovative thinking, this is a fundamental misunderstanding.

A generalist agency may think it is offering ‘fresh thinking’, but is it really?

Without a deep and comprehensive knowledge of the company's specialist sector, the generalist agency ends up unwittingly churning out content that offers limited market resonance and differentiation.

Messaging becomes misaligned. Sector specialists avoid these traps.

Generalist agencies may be able to hit KPIs in terms of coverage gained and interviews conducted, but when it comes to delivering true messaging, positioning and profile value, they fall short.

Insider knowledge, longstanding relationships with key contacts, and truly ‘fresh thinking’ are all required for commercially valuable results. This is where specialists triumph.

Adam Barber is managing director, Tamarindo Communications

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