COMMENT: PLATFORM; Why specialists are becoming old-fashioned

A broader range of experiences is now needed to provide fuel for ideas in fast-changing markets, says Gareth Zundel.

A broader range of experiences is now needed to provide fuel for ideas in fast-changing markets, says Gareth Zundel.

We all want to specialise and show how well we know our clients’ market.

But do we offer market experience as the main reason for selecting a PR

consultancy to the detriment of our core skills - those of


Should not our core skills come first - surely the competent PR

professional will be able to apply skills to virtually any market? A

little reflection will tell us that each client (even if they are in the

same industry) presents a unique set of demands and problems, such that

our so-called ‘specialisation’ often contributes a surprisingly small

amount to the understanding of the brief.

The balanced approach is one in which relevant experience is highlighted

in order to reassure the client, but the main message is the importance

of PR skills and the application of enlightened management.

Specialising in niche markets certainly aids the selling process. For

potential clients, the consultant’s boast of intimate market knowledge

makes the PR campaign under offer less of a shot in the dark. It’s

reassuring to know that the techniques proposed are tried and tested and

that the consultancy may have experienced some of the pitfalls.

But some consultancies seem to have taken market specialisation to

absurd extremes. The IT sector, where my own consultancy has experience,

is a good case in point. There are numerous PR consultancies that work

only in the IT sector - they do nothing else! Isn’t this a little

limiting? What happens when they have those all-important round table

meetings where ideas and approaches are discussed? The purpose of such

meetings is to pool ideas and communications knowledge, not merely to

pool industry knowledge. Contributors to a think-tank should bring

knowledge of every audience they have ever influenced - consumer,

professional, technical, business-to-business. Surely lessons learned in

one niche can often be transferred to another? Specialisation is one

thing, but exclusivity is quite another.

What happens when the client wants to target other markets? Many IT

companies who have made hay out of the business-to-business market over

the last 15 years are now recognising that the greatest growth lies in

consumer markets. Suddenly they find themselves wanting to influence the

man on the Clapham omnibus and to whom do they turn - their friendly

neighbourhood business-to-business IT PR consultant? Of course not.

The PR consultant that can consistently add value to its clients’

businesses over time will be the one with feet in many camps.

Look carefully at the PR consultant’s promotional stance. The basic

writing and communications skills, fertility of ideas and accuracy of

information should come first. Overrating market specialism when markets

are moving fast and furiously may prove a mistake in the long term.

One of the universal benefits of using an outside consultancy rather

than an in-house department is their objectivity and lack of day-to-day

saturation with one culture or one marketplace. So let PR consultants

exploit that benefit and not be afraid to offer experience of selling

mopeds as being relevant to a new approach to selling modems.

Gareth Zundel is a group PR director of Harvard Public Relations.

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