'It's PR's time to consolidate its value and shine’ – pitch consultants

The proportion of PR reviews compared to adland ones has been far higher over the past six months than in the same period last year. Consultants from Creativebrief and AAR Group explain why consumer PR has a massive opportunity.

(L-R) Creativebrief's Charlie Carpenter and AAR's Andrew Bloch
(L-R) Creativebrief's Charlie Carpenter and AAR's Andrew Bloch

Brands are calling a higher proportion of PR reviews than advertising and media ones this year. Part of this is being driven out of necessity as COVID-19 cuts bite for brands, but a new business consultant believes it presents PR with a unique opportunity.

Creativebrief chief executive Charlie Carpenter, whose consultancy advises brands on pitches across all marcomms disciplines, told PRWeek there has been a surge of consumer PR briefs since the second half of July – an observation that was shared by industry leaders in a PRWeek analysis of the consumer PR market.

“There’s been an uptick across the board, but it has been really noticeable in that social, influencer and PR space – what I would call ‘modern PR’, said Carpenter.

“We have definitely seen brands leaning pretty heavily on that earned media space. To a degree, it is out of necessity, in the sense that they've been stripping back media spend during that period, and are looking to really redouble their investment in areas where they can get extra bang for their buck.”

To illustrate the point, he said that over the past six months, about half of the reviews Creativebrief has helped facilitate have been PR, social and influencer, which is more than double the proportion across the same period in 2019 (see chart below).

Carpenter does not believe PR agencies are necessarily getting a bigger slice of the overall pie, but said PR budgets are holding up better than those in other disciplines.

He views this as presenting a big chance for consumer PR agencies that can provide a broad range of creative services to pick up the integrated briefs and broader remits that are becoming more commonplace.

“I think it's a massive opportunity, he said. It is a bit driven by necessity, with budget cuts and that sort of thing. Historically, brands haven't taken PR agencies as seriously in the context of strategic brand-building partners; I think they've used them in a little bit more of a disposable, tactical way to keep activity and visibility going.

“But because they cannot invest heavily in advertising and have quite meaty strategic challenges right now, you are seeing brands starting to lean on their consumer PR agencies as strategic partners.

Carpenter added: “If PR agencies can play that role over the next six months and really consolidate their value for those brands, that is a big opportunity – PR agencies are in a better position than ever to be seen as real creative partners.”

'It's PR's time to shine'

AAR’s lead consultant for PR, Andrew Bloch, agrees that the coronavirus has forced brands to review and reconsider their marcomms agency arrangements and, in some cases, consolidate to make their marketing budgets “work harder”.

“Consumer PR, in particular, has really benefited from this,” said Bloch, an industry veteran who previously co-founded and ran Frank PR for 20 years.

“Brands are aware they need to have a voice and keep consciousness high in what is a very important sales period. But also, brands value the ability of strong agencies to adapt the tone of communications in line with the mood of the nation – which is shifting and moving almost daily – and to take on a broader remit than they would have done previously and be a bit more strategic in their approach.”

This ability to read the public mood and pivot marketing with agility is a point agency leaders mentioned when speaking to PRWeek about the resurgence of consumer PR.

Bloch also agrees with Taylor Herring chief executive James Herring in that brands are using “loose change” from “marketing coffers” on PR because they think they can get more bang for their buck.

“This partly explains why we are seeing a resurgence and glory times for consumer PR,” Bloch added.

Another point he made is that, over the past few years, briefs have become more integrated across multiple channels and less pigeonholed by discipline, and this trend has been accelerated by the coronavirus crisis. 

Put simply: brands are often looking for the most efficient creative route to market.

“The power of good consumer PR is stronger than ever,” Bloch explained. “[COVID-19 has] accelerated the perception and realisation of what good consumer PR can do.

“PR is particularly well-placed to ‘agendaneer’ a brand to adapt to the mood of the nation and consumer attitudes at a pace that other disciplines perhaps can’t. It’s a good time to be a strong consumer comms agency – there is a huge opportunity to shine and show what PR can achieve.”

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