Danny Rogers: Challenge to justify advertising-scale fees

Over the past couple of weeks we've looked at the potential recovery of PR spend and likely polarisation of the PR industry this year.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Underlying all this is a significant trend for client organisations to shift marketing money into areas where PR skills are key.

There is some truth in the cliche that 'PR does well in recessions because it is cheaper than advertising'. Today's context is that mass media advertising has become even less effective at delivering valuable engagement with the right audiences. This, of course, is because traditional media have been weakened by fragmented digital channels and consumers now form their views of brands and organisations through complex social networks.

Many FMCG companies have recognised this for some time and have been experimenting with new types of brand communication involving social media. Most importantly, they have funded these experiments by taking funds from advertising budgets. This has played into the hands of innovative PR consultancies, which have grown significantly despite the overall squeeze on marketing budgets.

When PRWeek's annual Top UK Consultancies Report is published in April, we will have a better idea about the real impact of this trend. But those consumer agencies - Exposure, Splendid, Shine - that employ people from non-PR backgrounds could well have benefited most.

This may be because they can think more laterally and creatively about brand solutions. It may be because they speak the language of the marketing bosses holding the relevant purse strings. As well as expertise in social media, a key skill set here is that of campaign planning: the ability to strategise the best ways to reach core audiences using different media and techniques.

Ironically, the ad agencies - where planners have traditionally had a tough time explaining their role - are equally striving for better talent in this area. So ultimately the success of consumer PR agencies will be in battling other marketing agencies for this talent.

More than ever, strong ideas and inspired planning are major weapons in convincing clients to part with hard-earned cash. The subsequent challenge, however, is how PR agencies can learn to justify advertising-scale fees.

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