Certainly much of the growth in PR spend in recent years has come from client organisations’ hunger to learn about communicating via new digital media. WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell has gone as far as to say that web 2.0 has reignited overall client interest in ‘editorial publicity’, his term for PR.
Unfortunately, in the long term, interest alone is not sufficient to build long-term business. The PR industry needs to find strategic comms solutions that deliver tangible results. And it needs to find these quickly, because should PR professionals fail to do so, other disciplines surely will.
This warning is writ large this week, with Volvo’s decision to hand its entire social media strategy to media agency MindShare, rather than to a PR consultancy (News, p3).
MindShare is to integrate search engine optimisation, digital PR and social media strategy for Volvo, something that its PR chief said other agencies were unable to do.
There is justifiably some scepticism from PR professionals about MindShare’s ability to handle some of the stakeholder influencing activities – in other words, pro-actively managing reputation online, which would seem to lie outside its core skill set.
However, MindShare is hiring PR specialists to help on this score. This is a stark warning that clients may not care about the labelling of their consultants, as long as they deliver the goods.
The real danger to PR agencies, in particular, is that few have the scale or global clout of big media agencies such as MindShare, factors that will impress international brands.
PR agencies must therefore find ways of achieving this scale and providing an integrated set of digital services.
Predictions of the PR industry’s imminent demise are premature, but the ability to show real return on investment from digital programmes is an urgent requirement.