Chapter 11 of #FuturePRoof, written by Jim Hawker, examines how PR professionals can equip themselves with the tools and mindset that the modern day practitioner needs, not just to survive, but to thrive.
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#FUTUREPROOFING A PUBLIC RELATIONS AGENCY OR A COMMUNICATIONS TEAM Jim Hawker
· The type of investment required to innovate successfully
· How embracing a Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) model can drive commercial uplift
· Why diversity of talent and skills is key to success
What a chapter to try and attempt to write. How do you #FuturePRoof anything when the pace of change is as fast as it is?
Well, there is a distinct choice available to agencies and communications teams. We can either carry on with the way we have always done things or upskill and equip ourselves with the tools and mindset that the modern day PR practitioner needs, not just to survive, but to thrive.
Firstly, I should say that I don’t have all the answers. We took the decision to reengineer our PR agency model because it felt like the right thing to do for our clients.
I think one of the big reasons that most agencies have not followed suit is down to the money it has taken to do this (£500,000 by our last count) and also the lack of digital knowledge of most agency owners, who have grown up in a very traditional PR career.
While there is still money to be made from handling traditional media relations focused PR programmes, you will see less appetite for risk from agency bosses who have half an eye on retirement.
One of the other issues has been the traditional perception of PR and our place on agency rosters which is becoming narrower and narrower in scope. Marketing directors do not automatically think ‘PR’ agencies when looking for digital support and the issue is that PR professionals on the client side tend to focus more on reputation rather than commercial outcomes, which means flat lining budgets and reduced scope of work.
Embracing the PESO model aids breakthrough
Back in 2012 I was running a PR agency that was winning lots of social media and ‘digital’ campaign awards but in my heart of hearts I knew that we didn’t really understand how to navigate the fragmented media channels that our clients were facing. This became apparent when we would work alongside SEO or media buying agencies, with bigger budgets and more digital knowledge.
During that time we got to know another independent digital agency very well that was in the main part running SEO and paid media campaigns and our conversations led to the decision to merge the two companies together. This has resulted in Threepipe today. In 2015, we are 60 people and create blended teams of expertise that essentially revolves around the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) media model.
The decision to merge was primarily driven by clients wanting us to integrate our earned media approach with commercial SEO campaigns, centred upon the content we were creating. While most PR agencies can’t understand technical SEO, most SEO agencies struggle to gain valuable earned media attention around the content. We now are able to drive brand and commercial uplift around content, which helps to unlock more client budget.
If SEO agencies get their act together and start employing more ‘PR types’, then this could be a clear and present danger to the PR industry.
Paid is part of public relations
What we didn’t anticipate at the time of our merger was the need for PR agencies to also better understand paid media. This goes against most PR people’s natural tendencies – to pay for results. The reality is that it is now extremely difficult to run social media campaigns without having a paid media approach supporting it. Fortunately, through our merger we have paid media experts that understand how to effectively elevate brand campaigns and also commercialise the social platforms that we are spending a lot of time working within.
Many PR veterans talk about how PR has a ‘right to own’ social media and I find this extremely naïve. I am seeing media buying agencies move in fast to take control of these channels because you have to ‘pay to play’. Marketing directors automatically are handing control of their social channels to media buying agencies, simply because of the word ‘paid’. Is this fair? In my mind, yes.
If you wander around Threepipe, at first glance we look like any other PR agency. But take a closer look and you will see that half the office are sat with dual screens and excel sheets of data staring back at them. The ability to gather and interpret data is key to our business as it forms the basis of our campaigns, as well as our ability to track the effectiveness of them.
Upskill, find the talent and demonstrate value
Too many PR campaigns are failing because of a lack of integrated response and an inherent lack of understanding of data and how to use it. Agencies need to upskill fast and bring in people with different backgrounds that can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Don’t get me wrong, earned media is still hugely valuable, but there is no point generating it if it can’t be found or you can’t prove the value of it.
I regularly see ‘award winning campaigns’ with great ideas at their heart but little in the way of decent engagement or commercial results delivered. In a world where marketing directors are under pressure to demonstrate value, this is a dangerous game to play. Too often I see PR content outputs not being leveraged at all. How often do you see a great piece of content left to rot on YouTube without being tagged, or posted on Facebook with no assisted reach and engagement? More frequently than not.
I am aware that this chapter may be depressing reading but many of these mistakes are fairly easy to fix by bringing more people into our industry that can help transform our ways of working. We can do it ourselves but it won’t be fast enough.
Those in leadership positions need to be braver and more honest about our comparative and collective lack of progress. Look outwards towards more technically adept SEO agencies with bigger budgets or media buying agencies with more data and analytical skills, rather than congratulate ourselves on our ability to simply come up with clever ideas.
Of course, this chapter may well prompt discussion about the definition of PR. I will leave this to the academics and to be honest I have very little interest in this. We compete every day now with agencies that don’t care about definitions. It’s about giving client’s confidence that you have the right approach for the modern media landscape.