challenges in 2013 from a pr consultancy perspective

It's a tough time to be in public relations. The landscape which has changed forever is just as tricky for agencies. Here is what one senior figure has to say:

by Mark Whitehouse

Every PR agency will tell you they’re different.

We measure success for clients differently, boast a unique team of people, are the most creative, can implement a media campaign like no other, turn water into wine and back again. 

We have to; it’s (sort of) what we do and we need to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

But though the differences may be disparate and stark, the things we have in common run through us all.  Particularly, the hurdles we face when we are fighting for our share of business.  I was told only recently that a London-based company had bid for a project in Sandwell which carried fees of £8,000 – simply unheard of a very short time ago.

But we are where we are, as the young people say, and challenges are going nowhere.  So what are they?

Recruitment, for me, remains a big issue.  As clients want not only more value, proper measurement and results, we need people who understand precisely where each part of the communications campaign sits.  Understanding a strategy, the audience, a route to them and the mechanics of what’s under the PR bonnet is fundamental.  Integrated campaigns for sure, but genuinely getting “under the skin” of clients is made much more likely the higher the calibre of the personnel.  Someone who can innovate and deliver for clients remains a perfect, if sometimes, elusive ideal. 

And speaking of elusive, measuring success remains a challenge.  Too often I see consultancies still relying on the tangible – cuttings books, radio clips and so on.  They may well be a part of it, but what’s it actually done for the client?  My own view has always been clear; we’re helping manage clients’ reputations, and if we’re going to truly deliver against that we need to be clearer than crystal in agreeing who we’re trying to reach, what we’re saying and what the effect of that is going to be.  If both sides agree on that then you’re clear at the outset on objectives, results and likely impact.

And if you can demonstrate you’re going to drive sales, raise profile, open doors, whatever, then you are more likely to push a prospective client over the line into converted client territory. That remains, for me, about money.  I don’t care how tight people tell you their budgets are, if an agency can prove its worth, if client “falls over” if you’re not there, then it’s money well spent.  But converting prospects – moving the conversation from the need for PR to the decision, is still a headache.

And we continue to wrestle with our old friend social media.  If agencies are going to demonstrate maximum value, then robust digital strategies for clients are going to have to be the beating heart of what we offer.  We’re going through such rapid change that the environment is still settling around us from a comms perspective.  These digital strategies simply must be appropriate for each client – it’s a bespoke programme dependent on client requirement that’s going to work, there’s no “one size fits all”.

Finally, the increasingly fragmented media landscape has, we all agree, changed forever.  Understanding who’s seeing what - and when – is vital.  The means and opportunities to reach an audience have never been more various, but the principle from a comms point of view remains.  Make sure you’re defining the audience, the message and are using the correct conduit to reach them.

PR Week has just published its Power Book for 2013.  Dubbed “the definitive guide to the most influential people in PR”, here are ten randomly chosen words that people much better qualified than me have come up with to describe PR in 2013: relentless, rollercoaster, indispensable, ubiquitous, scrutinised, collaborative, mobile, advocacy, borderless, agile.

I’d add ‘challenging.’

Mark Whitehouse is deputy managing director of Clarke Associates, one of the Midlands’ leading communications consultancies