PR industry needs innovation not imitation!

Monday, 8 August 2011, 12:31 | Category : General
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Another interesting article on the future of PR agencies in PR Week, in what seems to be their favourite topic since Golin Harris stepped away from the ‘generalist’ model. But what worries me is the level of continued debate around whether this is THE blueprint for the future to enable PR agencies to open themselves up to wider comms briefs, and whether or not other agencies should follow suit.

Indeed, it would be a travesty (IMHO) if there is any blueprint in the future. Instead I remain hopeful that – rather than herd in a ‘me too’ fashion towards the GH concept – agencies will find other innovative ways to set themselves apart and give clients of this industry a real choice in how services are accessed. Isn’t that after all what we in comms advise our clients to do, whilst for so long we have all looked the same?

Furthermore, even if the GH concept proves a success for them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for every agency, or indeed every client.

Many agencies with shareholder responsibilities might find it difficult to take GH’s “all out” approach as they try to balance investment in the necessary skills to round out their offering and take them into the future, against their short term financial responsibilities to deliver profits. So will those agencies run by pools of directors who have become accustomed to large annual bonuses. Smaller agencies will also be limited in their ability to invest adequately in a wholly-owned full comms service.

To paraphrase Kate Magee – to take advantage agencies need to be more flexible than ever, to adapt to the ever changing times and provide the added value that clients require. Many agencies will achieve this by becoming more innovative in the way they access skills. Either by the increased use of temporary talent to help them expand their skill sets in a flexible fashion; or via JVs and partnerships with PR, social, ad and marketing agencies – who will band together to provide an integrated set of skills for clients.

Here at The PR Network, over the past six years we have organically grown our associate skill set far beyond what our name may suggest. We have social media, content generators, marketers, internal comms and planning specialists all amongst our rank and file – and are beginning to notice an increased level of demand for non-PR specialists from both agencies and our virtual agency clients and alike.

But it’s not just agencies that will innovate in the way they access skills. One trend that I think we are likely to see is a rise of the fractured or virtual agency – where savvy comms directors assemble their own bespoke integrated teams of independent specialists and bypass some or all aspects of the traditional agency concept altogether. We spend a lot of time eulogising about this concept and helping clients to build integrated teams. But like Golin Harris’ model we appreciate that it wouldn’t work for everyone, and nor should it try to.

What it is clear is that change is not optional and that the old ‘one size fits all’ pure media relations agency model is on borrowed time. But hopefully Golin Harris’ move sparks a sense of innovation and variety in how agencies deliver their services, rather than a pro forma for the future.


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