It canât just be me whoâs noticed that thereâs been a lot of debate in recent weeks about the future of the PR agency. Obviously, not just in recent weeks, but it does seem to have become a focused and popular topic of conversation of late.
For those of you whoâve somehow missed it, the two articles below are a helpful introduction:
But, essentially, the more you read around the debate, the more it seems to boil down to a number of fairly broad conclusions:Â
1. The current structure of most PR agencies will at some point cease to be fit-for-purpose.
2. No-one knows when that point is â estimates range from now, to two years ago, to not for a while yet.
3. Although lots of people have opinions about what isnât right, no-one has yet put their finger on exactly the right formula for PR Agencies Mark II, if this indeed exists.
4. This is about much more than âbringing in a social media expertâ â itâs about responding to fundamental shifts in communications channels, in the sophistication of audience targeting, and ultimately changes in how clients will want to work with agencies (if at all).
So, I suppose the first piece of good news from all this is, if youâre gripped by a sense of vague foreboding that you should be doing something, or youâre already trying something, but arenât sure itâs quite right, then youâre not the only one. Indeed, itâs probably a good thing – I strongly suspect if youâre completely convinced youâve got the right answer already, then you havenât entirely asked yourself the right question.Â
The other piece of good news is, itâs not just us. In recent weeks Iâve read just as many articles from people in advertising and various strands of digital worrying about all the same things that PR agencies do. This could possibly also be viewed as bad news â there isnât just a simple model somewhere else we can all copy â but to me indicates that weâre not losing out as badly to others in the communications world as we perhaps fear.
The simple fact of the matter is weâre in the middle of one of those seismic shifts that happens to all sectors every-so-often. Weâve had a pretty good run of things, but itâs now becoming increasingly clear that if we donât get a grip on how our role is changing soon â and even more importantly, start getting ahead of whatâs happening so weâre not just being reactive â weâre going to find ourselves caught in the middle of an unholy fight to the death between marketing disciplines. Or worse still, find ourselves becoming old-fashioned, then obsolete.Â Â
And although competitive advantage is obviously important, my personal feeling is that weâre going to have a much greater chance of understanding where we need to be if we pool resources and learnings, and ask ourselves tough questions â why donât clients use us for a wider range of skills? What have we got wrong already that we can learn from next time? Thatâs one reason Iâm part of the PRCAâs PR Council Working Group on the PR Agency of the Future â to help look at what the industry can usefully do to get better insight and share ideas about next steps. Although Iâm not claiming weâre going to instantly come up with the right answers, look out for something hopefully helpful later in the year.
In some ways, itâs very exciting to be part of an industry at a crossroads. In others, itâs slightly terrifying â like walking a tightrope you canât really see. But the more we talk, the more we share, the clearer the tightrope is going to get, and the better chance we have of staying on it. Itâs a challenge Iâm really looking forward to. Â