How Soon is Now? The Future of PR Firms, Part 1

By: Guest | January 14, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Ken Jacobs

In the last few months of 2012, we saw a number of posts about PR firms of the future.

One, by a number of executives from various PR agencies in PR Week about what the PR firm of 2017 will look like, resulted in this sharp response from Danny Brown.

I watched this discussion with interest.

Only a few weeks before I participated in a panel with Steve Barrett, the managing editor for PR Week, on “The Future Of PR Firms” at the North American meeting of global PR network IPREX.

I had initially prepared 11 critical capabilities I believe agencies must offer or actions they must take to successfully serve their client partners in the years ahead.

But on contemplation, I realized these are the capabilities firms must have today, or at least have a strategy to get them in the very near future. They can do so via training, new hires, acquisition, alliances, getting purchased, or some combination thereof. I share Danny’s view: If some of your competitors already offer these, why would your firm wait until 2017 to do so?

The discussion, moderated by C.Renzi Stone of integrated firm Saxum, was so interactive that I didn’t get to cover all the points. I’ll share the first five with you today:

Poised for POSE:  Is your agency truly able to lead its clients so they can make the best decisions regarding paid, owned, shared, and earned media?  Are enough of your staffers fluent in creating content and storytelling? Can you offer expertise in digital and social? Are you not just conversant in the tactics of video, SEO, mobile, and analytics, but actually capable of offering valuable strategic thinking behind all of the above? Can it help your clients thrive in this brave new world of connection, community, and influence with a much more diverse group of stakeholders? If you want to learn more about all of these, get to know Convince and Convert.

Ready to Maximize the Opportunity Caused by Blurred Lines: Today, consumers are much more media agnostic, basing their impressions and purchase decisions on an ever-changing mix of where they get their news and information. (See Prepared for POSE, above!) As such, the lines have blurred between PR, communications, digital, and marketing agencies. So it’s time to take a hard look at the capabilities your firm offers, to stay competitive and relevant.

I admire the way agencies such as i.d.e.a., Arment Dietrich, and Peppercomm (client) have re-tooled, not just by re-branding, but actually changing what they offer and how they execute on their clients’ behalfs.

Change is Good: I shared my belief that one of the most important roles for agency owners to embrace is that of CCO: Chief Change Officer. We should be leading change both for our clients and our agencies, whether the change is from conversation to engagement, from mere manager to leader, from PR firm to integrated communications agency, or whatever change you think is critical for your agency and its clients.

While I’m not sure I love the term “Prevolve,” I admire the way Golin-Harris changed career titles and paths for its employees, based on what the firm calls G4, which reflects what it believes is needed in the agency of tomorrow, and its analysis of its staffers’ core strengths: Strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts.

Talent Upgrade: The enormous changes mentioned above means the kinds of professionals we need to hire have changed dramatically as well. You need a team of real experts in the various areas cited, some of whom you might not have needed 18 months ago, and which you may not have had on board before. Some of this expertise can be gained via training, but much must come from hiring. I believe that across the board, you need superior listeners. This will help you not only in areas that may be newer to your agency, but in providing superior client service. In addition, I believe this will help you generate new business: being able to listen to a new prospect’s business issues allows you to develop a response that’s more likely to solve their problems…and win you their business.

Two other types of talent to look for: Leaders who can not only lead followers, but also lead other leaders at your agency; and “branded” employees who have strong, personal, digital footprints, and online followers. Examples are Annie Heckenberger, community trailblazer for integrated agency Red Tettemer, and Nathan Burgess, account supervisor and digital strategist at Bliss Integrated Communication. This takes some guts, but it’s one I’m confident will benefit your organization.

Take the Lead on Measurement/Research: It’s time to get proactive about the why, what, and how of measurement. It’s time for us to explain to our clients why they must, and how they can, measure not only their ROI, but ROE (return on engagement). The fact that global PR powerhouse Edelman hired Michael Berland to create Edelman Berland tells us something about the critical importance of this area for our futures. Who’s your Michael Berland?

In my next post, I’ll share with you six more of the points I shared with IPREX. In the meantime, please share a comment regarding how you’re managing any of these five points at your agency.

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps public relations and communications agencies grow business, as well as enhance staff performance, communications, and leadership skills. It does so via consulting, training and coaching.  You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and at Ken’s Views.

  • belllindsay

    I think your Talent Upgrade point is spot on. It’s so important for companies to realize that old fashioned job titles/descriptions often don’t fit anymore in this brave new world. Great post, Ken!

    • @belllindsay I commented on @Frank_Strong ‘s point above before I read yours…but I think they’re of the same cloth. I think today’s newer/younger communications pro is much more interested in the challenge of exploring something new, old titles/descriptions be damned. They’re career explorers, and much braver than I was when I was starting my career.

  • Deirdre Breakenridge uses the term “hybrid professional” as the future of talented PR pros.  I love that term and think it’s spot on.  Nice post, Ken.

    • belllindsay

      @Frank_Strong Ooooh, I love that term too!

    • @Frank_Strong Thanks Frank. Deirdre is certainly one of the smartest lights out there. Your comment got me thinking that the idea of a  “hybrid professional,” or perhaps “hybrid communications professional,” would be very appealing to Millennials (Gen Y) who overall are much more interested in interesting, challenging career paths than in classic ones.

  • Good stuff Ken. Coming from outside the PR world, I see a lot of sound advice for any industry that has been disrupted by the shifting communication landscape.
    Also, I love the idea of “prevolve”

    • @Adam | Customer Experience  I’ve heard much in the past year, in particular, about the benefits of a closer alignment between customer service and PR. I think that’s because customers don’t draw the line between the two the way that those who “own” those two areas might. And in this, I believe, we should take our cues from our customers.
      I was mixed about Prevolve when I first heard it…it sounded a bit clunky to my ear–but if clients and prospects react positively, I guess that says it works.

  • This reminds me of the old term of ‘Girl Friday’ and yes there are a few of us who can remember back to Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant! As PR practitioners we are evolving (hopefully) to a mixed breed or hybrid professional and therefore the agencies must also retrofit, modify or upgrade to keep and acquire this talent.

    • @annelizhannan It’s all about change. Our industry is changing at, you’ll pardon the cliche, warp speed. Agencies that embrace that change, in my view, will thrive. Those that are satisfied with merely doing better at what they did yesterday? Not so much!

  • Pingback: How Soon is Now? The Future of PR Firms, Part 2 by @kensviews | Spin Sucks()

  • Well thank you for the mention of i.d.e.a. Ken! We are in good company. I agree that the time is now. The landscape has changed so much in the past few years that we have to learn to adapt in real time, not “in a couple of years”. I think part of it is how willing you are to lead the industry (risky) vs. follow.

    • Thanks,  @Indra You’re so right; those who have the courage to lead will indeed be rewarded. Those who have a plan to adapt, will thrive, if they do so quickly. But those who don’t catch up, or do so too slowly, may not survive.

  • Pingback: How Soon Is Now? The Future Of PR Firms, Part One | Ken's Views()

  • Pingback: PR Agencies Of The Future, Pt.2 - Ken's Views- Ken's Views()