The black hole role of digital in PR
Me old mucker Wadds pointed me to this piece by his PiC, Steve Earls about the 3 key things that PR agencies need to think about if they are going to make money in this changing media landscape. Wadds and Steve know what they are talking about, they have made a great job of running smart, successful pr agencies, so these are very relevant points. I’m paraphrasing what Steve has written, so in brief:
1. The money must be there â€“ if you are going to develop staff, training costs. If you are going to bring more experience in, that costs more. Obvious but there must be cash there for the business to be able to sustain the pay for good staff. (this ties in with point 3).
2. Agencies must benchmark better â€“ Generic phrases around pay like â€œin the upper quartileâ€, â€œbetter than averageâ€ are fast-losing credibility amongst staff, who, if they are switched on, are building their personal brands and making them liable to poaching.
3. If your specialism is media-linked, watch it erode â€“ as current specialisms become mainstream, watch your earning potential decline.
This last point is an especially pertinent one for gabba (my social media agency) and one which we have struggled with positioning ourselves appropriately/sensitively. What we do is very much social media. Sure we build things for clients when its appropriate, but a digital and/or seo agency we are not.
However, we are acutely aware that the root of what we do is pr, only our pr is done online, one to several thousand, using different tools and “techniques” to the conventional world. But as social media evolves, it naturally becomes integrated into digital strategy – touching way more parts of the business than simply the website alone. So who handles this relationship? The PR agency? The marketing department, communications department, customer services…perhaps a social media team…
So where does that leave the PR agency? 3 years ago when we developed a social media press release tool called PressRoom, we introduced it to PR agencies whose lack of online awareness was astoundingly low. Whilst we would never have expected everybody to instantly get it, we would certainly have expected many to understand the context or purpose of the tool.
The gulf between what clients have expected of their PR agency in terms of guidance in this new space and their ability to deliver those skills remains enormous, hence the frequency of deals (partnerships and acquisitions) to get these skills on board quickly and the flurry of activity (and equally paying of generous salaries) to acquire digital specialists who can bring these skills to the pr agency. The reality is though in many of these cases is that these specialists are exactly that – a team of one trying to battle against in some cases, ranks and decades of status quo account management and delivery.
PR agencies will only get skilled up for this new space when the people doing the “standard” give a stuff enough to realise that online is part of their job and not that of the new guy or gal who has digital in their title.
So, going back to Steve’s original point 3, where this leaves the specialist (agency), one might look at the many types of agencies that exist already and have done for years and we see that there IS in fact space for specialist agencies. They just need to know more than their clients, be more adaptable to changing requirements, have proven experience/credibility in the space and be at least one step ahead of clients who are adapting to these new channels and ways of communicating. Let’s take a quick look at some scenarios:
- Digital agencies constantly develop new ideas with new technologies that ClientCo can neither justify investing in or are skilled enough to develop in.
- SEO agencies can deliver a level of skills and results through a wide range of activities that (arguably) few client companies either have the resources to deliver or the budget to achieve the same results.
- PR agencies have the press contacts and relationships that ClientCo does not have the time or resources to develop.
All of these agencies deliver an often exemplary service specialism in their own right yet they comfortably fit into ClientCo’s digital strategy, so I ask myself why wouldn’t social media agencies do the same?