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OPINION: Threepipe's Jim Hawker on PR reputation: Embrace the "new world order" on the comms battleground

6 November 2015

This week's PRCA report on in-house departments revealed some worrying trends for the industry, according to Threepipe's Jim Hawker. However, he thinks the industry can keep its place in "the new world order" if it faces up to three key areas of competition.

OPINION: Threepipe's Jim Hawker on PR reputation: Embrace the "new world order" on the comms battleground

I have just about recovered from reading the latest PRCA report which examined the goings on within in-house PR departments. It seems that despite the efforts of AMEC's Measurement Month this September and various ‘measurement’ campaigns, some in-house PRs are continuing to turn to AVEs and finding comfort in print media.

These results should be hugely disappointing for everyone regardless of whether you work in-house or agency. An agency can only be as good as its client will let it be. All of us have a responsibility to continue to learn and adapt the work we are doing to be as effective as possible.

The very fact that AVEs still have resonance within organisations is a combination of the disdainful opinion of the role PR has to play and a lack of progress by internal teams in educating the wider business about what modern PR looks like.

Much has been written about client fascination with print media (in a world of falling circulations and print editions becoming digital editions) and no one is denying it as an effective channel, but when it takes priority over channels which offer a richer and more measurable engagement opportunities, then we have lost sight of the end game. The need for clients to see their work in print is often down to nothing more than pandering to a CEO or marketing director.

The results of the PRCA's report do not surprise me. I have had numerous meetings throughout the year which reiterate the fact that PR is in huge danger of its role becoming more marginalised and concerned primarily with organisational reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, the role that that PR plays in supporting corporate reputation is massively important and I am fully aware of all the studies linking positive reputation with commercial success. However, there are not many companies I have had the pleasure of working with over a 20 year career that are happy to plough greater investment into programmes purely based on reputation – unless something goes wrong.

PR budgets continue to flatline and I don’t imagine there are many clients that are investing significantly more budget into their PR programmes as they enter 2016. If you can’t prove the value of the work you are doing as an agency or as an in-house professional then this won’t change.

As we enter 2016, I believe there are a few key threats that agencies need to counteract:


SEO

SEO agencies are in prime position to swallow up smaller PR budgets. I know many in-house PRs, who are in a panic about their comparatively diminishing role and budgets compared to their SEO colleagues. I know of many occasions where the SEO teams are delivering stand-out coverage within tier one media and influencer groups, and more importantly being able to talk comfortably about data analytics and revenue.

Media agencies

Paid media is now a key part of our work. I am not just talking about tactical boosting of social posts, but a more sophisticated approach to content distribution, whether that’s through social networks or native advertising. Media buying agencies are fast moving into the social channels, which PR agencies land-grabbed a few years ago. As they become a valuable source of customer acquisition, companies will be keen for their media agencies to take greater involvement.

The client

Agencies need to widen their relationships on the client side and work with wider marketing teams so that they can extend the breadth of work beyond the PR manager. That means upskilling or bringing new people into the agency that can understand the potential of the outputs of the agency work and how they could be used elsewhere in the marketing mix.


Whether you work in-house or within an agency, I think we can all agree that flatlining budgets is not an encouraging sign. It’s not just a matter of changing the perception of PR because change needs to happen from within first – we need to embrace the new world order.