First, a caveat – I don’t know the folks whose quotes I’m about to use as examples of why the PR industry is struggling.

They could be (and probably are) very smart and accomplished business people.

So, this isn’t a “go” at them.

With that being said, however, this recent report/white paper does seem to highlight exactly why the PR industry is continuously seen as one that’s been slow to adapt to the new business landscape and, as such, is holding agencies and consultants back.

First, let’s take a look at the piece.

The PR Firm of the Future

As a precursor to the PRWeek Conference on November 14, Michael Lasky – senior partner and head of PR at law firm Davis & Gilbert LLP – asked this question:

What is the most important way in which the PR agency of 2017 will be different from the PR agency of today?

Michael asked 8 leaders of independent agencies. The responses included:

– Ken Eudy, CEO, Capstrat: “The PR firm of 2017 will increasingly help is clients become publishers and broadcasters… communicating directly with stakeholders without having their messages filtered through traditional media.”

– Maril MacDonald, CEO, Gagen MacDonald: “The successful firm of 2017… will be interested in relationships, not transactions. It will think about the long-term strategy, not short-term tactics. It will add value through a technology-driven collaborative dialogue…”

– Elise Mitchell, CEO, Mitchell Communications Group: “The firm of the future will be known as a business strategist with communications expertise. It will offer integrated services that create solutions… leveraging earned, owned, paid, shared and promoted media in all channels including digital.”

– Jennifer Prosek, CEO, Prosek Partners: “Practitioners in 2017 will be required to think across the marketing mix and successfully drive campaigns versus simply owning the traditional earned media channels. Firms will need to articulate the value of results that engage their audience versus simply offering impressions.

These are just four quotes I pulled from eight agency leaders. Others include:

  • “Providing value at this level is not only the key to establishing lasting partnerships, but also creates a desire… to partner with this organization”;
  • “Multidisciplinary expertise will be the firm’s leading competitive asset”;
  • “THE PR firm of the future… will deploy a mix of paid, earned, owned and shared media that can be monitored and measured directly in real time.”

All good stuff. All good advice. If this weren’t already happening today in 2012, versus what should happen in 2017.

The PR Firm of Today and Yesterday

While there are some good quotes from the assembled eight agency folks, the “problem”, if you like, is that they were asked what the PR firm of the future would look like.

So, you’d kind of hope/expect to hear stuff that no-one’s really doing at the minute, or ideas that are really pushing the industry forward.

Unfortunately, the majority of the soundbites would be futuristic if they were answers from circa 2008/2009.

Suggestions that brands become publishers and broadcasters, for example, miss how well blogs and social networks have been used by brands and agencies for the last 3-4 years.

You only need to look at programs like Sony’s Digital Dads, or Ford’s blogger outreach campaigns, to see how well this has been done in the last few years. And smaller businesses are increasingly using blogs to educate their audience and grow their customer audience and loyalty.

Then there’s the prediction that the PR firm of the future will deploy a mix of paid, earned, owned and shared media while being able to monitor and measure in real time.

When I was working on a RIM account back in 2009 to launch the Bold 9700 in the U.S., we used a collaborative strategy that saw us involve Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to create a fully interactive experience for you and your friends. This was supplemented by paid media ads as well as partnerships with BlackBerry communities.

We measured and identified where the campaign was working, where it needed help, and which communities were driving real value and worth around the promotion.

The result was millions of impressions, thousands of handsets pre-ordered and sold, and an industry award for the campaign itself.

That was in 2009 – and I know we weren’t the first to use true integration in campaigns.

The Future is Now

And this is exactly why this “prediction paper” just adds to the view that PR is being left behind, versus countering that belief.

There’s no doubt that there are great agencies doing great things. Companies like Arment Dietrich, RKPR, Mullen, Voce, V3 and more. And the reason they’re leading the way today is because they’re already practicing what’s being predicted for 2017.

They’re integrating channels and expertise now. They’re not silo’ing PR from marketing from digital from strategy from creative and more – they’re running these as fully integrated ideas from the start, and have been for years.

My friend Rick Rice, a 35-year industry veteran, sums it up best with this quote:

The PR business is in need of disruptive change and none of this generation are even willing to try.

There’s no doubt the PR industry has a perception problem, and it’s great to see it trying to move forward. I just wonder how far it can move when it still seems to be behind the curve on so many things…

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