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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91 comments
Maddi
Maddi

I think one of the most influential factors in ensuring a positive change in the PR industry lies within the future employees of the industry. Colleges and universities need to take education beyond the realm of PR, and practice an integrated approach that includes marketing research, advertising, blogging and more. Such an approach would help the future of the industry see that public relations is a dynamic field, and you have to progress with the rest of the world or fall behind.

Nixie
Nixie

@AmyVernon @dannybrown To be fair, a lack of real vision is stalling most industries

bestbizplans
bestbizplans

@dunnpr we all must be better prepared for what may (will) be thrown at us. Easier said than done!

bestbizplans
bestbizplans

@dunnpr First off, I have a ton of respect for the PR industry, although as the world is changing at lightspeed due to technology...

Facebook Page
Facebook Page

Hi Danny thanks so much for sharing this with us.

juancpedreira
juancpedreira

@Rorivera27 Asi pasa en muchas industrias...pero el cambio tarde o temprano va a ocurrir

Rorivera27
Rorivera27

@juancpedreira sorry por los 10 tuits!! Hahaha

juancpedreira
juancpedreira

@Rorivera27 Oka! Creo que hay unas ideas interesantes

Rorivera27
Rorivera27

@juancpedreira lo que quiero decir es que tengo que estar liderando la estrategia, pero sabiendo que la industria no está tan avanzada.

Rorivera27
Rorivera27

@juancpedreira o fashion, tienes que estar "on the edge" con todo. En mi industria de construcción, igualmente, pero de otras formas.....

Rorivera27
Rorivera27

@juancpedreira tu tienes que ir forward con los trends, dependiendo de tu cleinte. Por ejemplo, si estas en la industria de belleza...

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

Where does PR Newswire fit into this paradigm? I'm guessing the executives quoted have marketing departments that distribute corporate announcements through "the wire" -- and I wonder if the chain needs to be amended.

Shelley Pringle
Shelley Pringle

HI Danny, thought-provoking post. Here's my prediction for 2017--there will be no PR agencies. Sure, there will be content marketing agencies, digital agencies and integrated marketing communications agencies. Some of these firms may even be run by folks whose roots are in PR. But the PR agency as we know it today will not exist.

Trace Cohen
Trace Cohen

Appreciate the thoughtful response.

To your last point, measurement and quantification is all about expectations. My PR background is primarily with tech startups so they most of the time want publicity, which ultimately leads to credibility for them, aka traffic to their site and Facebook/twitter love. With the sophistication of our analytics these days we can even attribute PR to sales... now that would be interesting.

I once met a guy who told me he was in the "lead generation" business and when I asked him how he did that, he said "by doing PR."

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi there Trace, Interesting you mentioned Ketchum - they still struggle, as was evident by their guy that arrived in Detroit for a meeting and tweeted what a dive it was... ;-) There are definitely agencies that are moving with the times (though that's true of any industry). Yet, as the quotes directly from PR leaders themselves show, it's still an issue for many - if these quotes are seen as future goals, they're already behind those that are doing these things right now. Where I see the bigger issue is the very point you raise: And therein lies the answer – the PR industry, which used to rely very heavily on mass media for “coverage” can now bypass them to a certain extent and directly engage their customers/community on multiple levels and actually quantify their results. Measurement and quantification should have been a requisite from day one. If that's just coming on board because of social media, then there's a bigger issue at stake than just keeping up with the times. Cheers for the info about Launch.it, will look into it, mate.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Wouldn't it have been refreshing for one of them to just say: it's all moving so fast I can't predict 2017, but I know it will be very different?

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

That is frightening... I STILL feel like I don't know enough and have SO much to learn, but even my little agency is doing all of that. Maybe that comment is right Danny, the folks making the big bucks don't want anything to change... but it HAS already.

Trace Cohen
Trace Cohen

There is no question that the PR industry has a PR problem – we are still considered the

“dark side” when a journalist joins our ranks. We actually outnumber journalists 4 to 1 now, which is another conversation in itself but only makes our job of “traditional” PR that much harder. But to state that the PR industry is stalling is just a blatantly wrong statement (http://www.vss.com/NewsDetails.aspx?ID=272).

Admittedly there hasn’t been much innovation specifically for the PR industry besides the

wires services that some people still use. We’ve had to adopt beyond just strategy and publicity to utilizing social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, youtube etc.) to continually go direct-to-consumer. And therein lies the answer – the PR industry, which used to rely very heavily on mass media for “coverage” can now bypass them to a certain extent and directly engage their customers/community on multiple levels and actually quantify their results.

At the PRSAIC a few weeks ago I sat in on a panel with the CEO’s of the top agencies

(GH, H+K, Airfoil, Ketchum) and they all admitted they go way beyond “traditional” PR now. They now provide their clients with earned, owned, paid, shared and promoted. Basically whatever the client needs.

As an entrepreneur in the PR space, I even launched my own company Launch.it to try

and bring innovation to it. Launch.it is a free self-publishing news platform for PR professionals, agencies and brands to launch and socialize everything new. Our goal is to be the most comprehensive direct-to-customer source for the timeliest news of all new products, services and ideas to make sure that they can be found, discovered

and shared. We want to create a home for everything new and make sure that nothing gets left behind.

I’m more worried about other industries than I am about the PR industry – I think we will be just fine.

Read more at http://www.business2community.com/public-relations/a-lack-of-real-vision-is-stalling-the-pr-industry-0310348#D2CmsQhVrD8G4QtT.99

Trace Cohen
Trace Cohen

There is no question that the PR industry has a PR problem – we are still considered the “dark side” when a journalist joins our ranks. We actually outnumber journalists 4 to 1 now, which is another conversation in itself but only makes our job of “traditional” PR that much harder. But to state that the PR industry is stalling is just a blatantly wrong statement (http://www.vss.com/NewsDetails.aspx?ID=272). Admittedly there hasn’t been much innovation specifically for the PR industry besides the wires services that some people still use. We’ve had to adopt beyond just strategy and publicity to utilizing social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, youtube etc.) to continually go direct-to-consumer. And therein lies the answer – the PR industry, which used to rely very heavily on mass media for “coverage” can now bypass them to a certain extent and directly engage their customers/community on multiple levels and actually quantify their results. At the PRSAIC a few weeks ago I sat in on a panel with the CEO’s of the top agencies (GH, H+K, Airfoil, Ketchum) and they all admitted they go way beyond “traditional” PR now. They now provide their clients with earned, owned, paid, shared and promoted. Basically whatever the client needs. As an entrepreneur in the PR space, I even launched my own company Launch.it to try and bring innovation to it. Launch.it is a free self-publishing news platform for PR professionals, agencies and brands to launch and socialize everything new. Our goal is to be the most comprehensive direct-to-customer source for the timeliest news of all new products, services and ideas to make sure that they can be found, discovered and shared. We want to create a home for everything new and make sure that nothing gets left behind. I’m more worried about other industries than I am about the PR industry – I think we will be just fine. Read more at http://www.business2community.com/public-relations/a-lack-of-real-vision-is-stalling-the-pr-industry-0310348#D2CmsQhVrD8G4QtT.99

Nixie
Nixie

@AmyVernon @dannybrown To be fair, a lack of real vision is stalling most industries

Ryan Evans
Ryan Evans

Folks at big companies with fat salaries and a bright future are not the ones to ask about the future. They would be just fine with the future being exactly like the past. The people to ask are the people you've never heard of. They are a little harder to reach and aren't yet respected but they are the ones shaping the future right now.

bestbizplans
bestbizplans

@dunnpr we all must be better prepared for what may (will) be thrown at us. Easier said than done!

bestbizplans
bestbizplans

@dunnpr First off, I have a ton of respect for the PR industry, although as the world is changing at lightspeed due to technology...

Facebook Page
Facebook Page

Hi Danny thanks so much for sharing this with us.

LuisD2DPrint
LuisD2DPrint

As Challin mentioned before, I would also like to see some solutions. Or perhaps the PR industry has reached the pinnacle of what it can do today. Thats not saying that 2017 will use the same strategy its currently using. The PR industry and most industries began using Facebook, and Twitter after they came out as a way to interact with their respective audience.

LuisD2DPrint
LuisD2DPrint

As Challin mentioned before, I would also like to see some solutions. Or perhaps the PR industry has reached the pinnacle of what it can do today. Thats not saying that 2017 will use the same strategy its currently using. The PR industry and most industries began using Facebook, and Twitter after they came out as a way to interact with their respective audience. 

RichBecker
RichBecker

Danny, You're mostly right (and so are many of the comments describing other communication sub-fields too). Personally, I think public relations has always in the midst of disruptive change from its earliest beginnings as a spin off from propaganda and never really recovered despite the best efforts of many.  As an advocate for integrated communication, I'm not always sure that losing the notion of public relations as it exists today would be a bad thing, with one very critical exception. There are several skill sets and ways of thinking about the world that are unique to this profession. I don't think we can afford to lose this thinking.  In fact, I find it interesting that almost none of what is preserving from public relations has to do with publicity or media relations, which are the two areas public relations tends to become bogged down. If the field could reign itself in as the management function definitions that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, I think this conversation wouldn't continually surface.  Good stuff,  Rich

RichBecker
RichBecker

Danny,

You're mostly right (and so are many of the comments describing other communication sub-fields too). Personally, I think public relations has always in the midst of disruptive change from its earliest beginnings as a spin off from propaganda and never really recovered despite the best efforts of many. 

As an advocate for integrated communication, I'm not always sure that losing the notion of public relations as it exists today would be a bad thing, with one very critical exception. There are several skill sets and ways of thinking about the world that are unique to this profession. I don't think we can afford to lose this thinking. 

In fact, I find it interesting that almost none of what is preserving from public relations has to do with publicity or media relations, which are the two areas public relations tends to become bogged down. If the field could reign itself in as the management function definitions that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, I think this conversation wouldn't continually surface. 

Good stuff, 

Rich

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Hi Danny, This is a very interesting post and I'm sure you'll get some amazing comments from PR experts (already have :)). But I don't think it's limited to PR. It includes communications and creative firms in general. You could say the same thing about my industry and I'm still playing catch up (some I know aren't even trying). The amazing thing to me is that many of the marketing directors I talk to are so uninformed about all this and they are approaching this like it's 2007, or 1999 ;) Certain companies I approach should at the very least be blogging and more engaged on their social media channels. They're looking for more business, have the resources to do it, but are stuck in the old model. Let's print a brochure, design a website and place a $2,000 ad in a trade mag, then we're all set.  Me? Well,l I have a LOT to learn from experts like you and Gini, but the slow trickle of information I'm bringing into every new meeting. Well, I'm getting a lot of nods. This is good ;) If I only had a crystal ball. Hmmmm, I wonder what Ray Kurzweil would say … ;)

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Hi Danny,

This is a very interesting post and I'm sure you'll get some amazing comments from PR experts (already have :)).

But I don't think it's limited to PR. It includes communications and creative firms in general. You could say the same thing about my industry and I'm still playing catch up (some I know aren't even trying). The amazing thing to me is that many of the marketing directors I talk to are so uninformed about all this and they are approaching this like it's 2007, or 1999 ;) Certain companies I approach should at the very least be blogging and more engaged on their social media channels. They're looking for more business, have the resources to do it, but are stuck in the old model. Let's print a brochure, design a website and place a $2,000 ad in a trade mag, then we're all set. 

Me? Well,l I have a LOT to learn from experts like you and Gini, but the slow trickle of information I'm bringing into every new meeting. Well, I'm getting a lot of nods. This is good ;)

If I only had a crystal ball. Hmmmm, I wonder what Ray Kurzweil would say … ;)

Challin
Challin

Hi Danny, I know you mentioned some companies who are thinking in terms of 2017, but can you provide some of the programs that they've implemented that are more forward thinking?  I'd love to not only hear the problem, but also some solutions. Thanks!

Challin
Challin

Hi Danny, I know you mentioned some companies who are thinking in terms of 2017, but can you provide some of the programs that they've implemented that are more forward thinking?  I'd love to not only hear the problem, but also some solutions.

Thanks!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

When I received this same article I wrote a blog post about it, too. I promised it first to Ragan so it'll run on Spin Sucks later, but my thoughts are the same as yours. Recently, a very well-respected mid-sized agency changed their brand from PR firm to integrated marketing communications firm. I applaud them for it, but it's the same thing we did in 2009. The real problem though? They're stil lightyears ahead of other firms. I spoke at a conference earlier this year where some of the people quoted in this article attended. When I asked a few questions of the audience about basic things (Google alerts, blogging, social media for their agencies, measurement), less than one percent raised their hands indicating they do it. This scares me. I know - and respect - Elise Mitchell and a couple of other leaders quoted a great deal. It saddens me they're so far behind the curve on this stuff. But, until we ALL begin educating our clients on what's important and how to measure our efforts to real business results, it won't change. Too many still ask for media relations or events only and don't want to use their PR counsel for anything else. It's a top down problem.

dunnpr
dunnpr

@bestbizplans Definitely! Thanks for the insight!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The newswires are interesting beasts, Ari - some are most definitely better than others when it comes to editorial process and partners. I like what Cision are doing, and Vocus (for the most part) have some good practices.

The thing is, many newswires are just letting anything go through now since it's a traffic driver for them as well as their ad partners. So, while traffic is the key over quality, editorial - and, by association, news - will continue to suffer.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The newswires are interesting beasts, Ari - some are most definitely better than others when it comes to editorial process and partners. I like what Cision are doing, and Vocus (for the most part) have some good practices. The thing is, many newswires are just letting anything go through now since it's a traffic driver for them as well as their ad partners. So, while traffic is the key over quality, editorial - and, by association, news - will continue to suffer.

Trace Cohen
Trace Cohen

Appreciate the thoughtful response. To your last point, measurement and quantification is all about expectations. My PR background is primarily with tech startups so they most of the time want publicity, which ultimately leads to credibility for them, aka traffic to their site and Facebook/twitter love. With the sophistication of our analytics these days we can even attribute PR to sales... now that would be interesting. I once met a guy who told me he was in the "lead generation" business and when I asked him how he did that, he said "by doing PR."

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi there Trace,

Interesting you mentioned Ketchum - they still struggle, as was evident by their guy that arrived in Detroit for a meeting and tweeted what a dive it was... ;-)

There are definitely agencies that are moving with the times (though that's true of any industry). Yet, as the quotes directly from PR leaders themselves show, it's still an issue for many - if these quotes are seen as future goals, they're already behind those that are doing these things right now.

Where I see the bigger issue is the very point you raise:

And therein lies the answer – the PR industry, which used to rely very

heavily on mass media for “coverage” can now bypass them to a certain

extent and directly engage their customers/community on multiple levels

and actually quantify their results.

Measurement and quantification should have been a requisite from day one. If that's just coming on board because of social media, then there's a bigger issue at stake than just keeping up with the times.

Cheers for the info about Launch.it, will look into it, mate.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

That's a very good point, mate. There are definitely leaders on large salaries that are driving new ideas forward, but for the most part, it's the hungry folks in the "lower echelons" that could really help move the needle. If given the chance...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

LuisD2DPrint Challin One of the cool things that Arment Dietrich (led by ginidietrich) is doing is Spin Sucks Pro. http://spinsuckspro.com/ Not only is this helping PR agencies and consultants move faster to embrace social media and digital tools, but it's helping lead generation for Gini and her team in education for brands, too. These are the kind of initiatives that will move the industry forward.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@LuisD2DPrint @Challin One of the cool things that Arment Dietrich (led by @ginidietrich) is doing is Spin Sucks Pro.

http://spinsuckspro.com/

Not only is this helping PR agencies and consultants move faster to embrace social media and digital tools, but it's helping lead generation for Gini and her team in education for brands, too.

These are the kind of initiatives that will move the industry forward.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

RichBecker That's a great point, mate. it's no surprise that when people hear the term PR, it's usually associated with press releases and promotions. Yet there's a hell of a lot more that goes on aside from these two areas, and perhaps that message needs to get out in order to help PR become more respected in other areas?

RickRice
RickRice

RichBecker While I think we've been evolving - the wrong way - and need disruption I completely agree that we've become way too focused on publicity and media relations. We'd moved beyond that when i started in this business but we moved away from it to sell more hours pitching the media.  If, as you say, we'd get back to focusing on the management function definitions of PR instead of the implementation work (publicity, media relations, content creation, whatever...) we would be having different conversations. And I think they'd be better conversations.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@RichBecker That's a great point, mate. it's no surprise that when people hear the term PR, it's usually associated with press releases and promotions. Yet there's a hell of a lot more that goes on aside from these two areas, and perhaps that message needs to get out in order to help PR become more respected in other areas?

RickRice
RickRice

@RichBecker While I think we've been evolving - the wrong way - and need disruption I completely agree that we've become way too focused on publicity and media relations. We'd moved beyond that when i started in this business but we moved away from it to sell more hours pitching the media. 

If, as you say, we'd get back to focusing on the management function definitions of PR instead of the implementation work (publicity, media relations, content creation, whatever...) we would be having different conversations. And I think they'd be better conversations.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Craig McBreen Agreed, mate, it's definitely not just limited to PR. Heck, I'm often bamboozled by the amount of crap many of my fellow marketers come out with! I guess with PR, because it's such a front-facing industry that should be leading the way in this space, it's even more evident when it's lost its way. Which is kinda sad, really.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Craig McBreen Agreed, mate, it's definitely not just limited to PR. Heck, I'm often bamboozled by the amount of crap many of my fellow marketers come out with!

I guess with PR, because it's such a front-facing industry that should be leading the way in this space, it's even more evident when it's lost its way. Which is kinda sad, really.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

ginidietrich I think that's the scariest part, Gini. When the perceived leaders of an industry are still so far behind in their thinking, then when does that industry have the chance to get to where it needs to be? Like you say, it's a top down issue, but how do you get the people that can initiate change to actually be heard?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

Danny Brown About five years ago, I heard a speech by one of the CEOs of one of the biggest holding companies in the PR world. He talked about how it's our jobs to do as the client asks...even if it means spinning the truth. My friends had to physically remove me from the room. I wish I had the blogging balls back then that I have now because I would have called him out very publicly. It still makes me crazy. But it just goes to show...if they think that's what we do and they're counseling the executives at the world's largest companies, the industry won't change.

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