'It's our role as industry leaders to be wide-eyed and build new things' - PR's next top model

In the wake of Martin Sorrell's claim that unification of brand services is the future, why does the PR industry insist on swimming in its own lane instead of leading the revolution?

The middle of the road isn't just boring, it's a road-safety nightmare, argues Alex Myers
The middle of the road isn't just boring, it's a road-safety nightmare, argues Alex Myers

I was at Campaign’s 50th anniversary breakfast briefing recently, where I listened to Martin Sorrell talk about the blurred lines between marketing disciplines. 

The future, he says, lies in unified communications, with a unified P&L as well as a unified creative approach.

In this brave new world, it feels like PR agencies have the opportunity to lead the way.

We build stories from human truths, we understand both the big idea and how to deliver it across the media spectrum.

Oh, and we are the only creative discipline defined by our audience, rather than a channel.

Except, we’re not really, are we?

Too many PR agencies remain grounded in media relations (in various guises) as their sole route for creativity.

For too long we have been an industry defined by black books, creds and column inches.

Yes, there are shining lights of difference, but in general, measurement is a chore, integration is simply about adding more profit centres and we call ourselves consultants but we still bill like cleaners.

Our job is no longer about getting ink, it’s about changing things; so why aren’t we changing, too?

Sorrell believes we need to reformat the marketing industry for a new era, creating a new kind of agency.

He has put S4’s money behind Media Monks because they are defined by a new kind of creativity – one that combines the potential of the channels it exists on. 

That’s not just integration, it’s unification.

And there are loads of examples of agencies breaking new ground to take inspiration from: Huge, UsTwo, Christopher Doyle & Co, etc. Notably, none of them are PR agencies.

Indeed, one of PR’s most progressive agencies, Golin, tried to ‘reclaim PR’ and urged us to be happy in our PR box.

I understand the sentiment, but while brands are broadening their horizons and opening their eyes to more strategic and integrated thinking, it’s hardly time for the PR industry to put the blinkers on.

We let PR become a dirty word, now we are paying the price

What we call ourselves is not the issue here.

As others create unified models, PR too needs to learn to swim outside its lane. To influence at a higher level than the media coalface.

Otherwise, PR risks sitting in the middle of the road as those around it continue to innovate.

And the middle of the road isn’t just boring; it’s a road-safety nightmare.

So I have one question for other PR agency leaders: Why? Why build a model that limits your creativity?

Surely it’s our role as industry leaders to be wide-eyed and build new things.

Yes, we need to keep our feet on the ground, but it’s equally important to keep our head in the clouds.

Otherwise things are going to stand still. And that’s not just dangerous, it’s dull.

Alex Myers is the founder and CEO of Manifest London

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