Times They Are A Changin’ (More so)

It’s critical to stay ahead of marketplace trends and ensure that your agency offers clients multiple new services to get their message out and boost their brand’s visibility.

And while agencies have made dramatic moves in recent years in terms of expanding their services and breaking into digital markets, even bigger changes are in store.

Randy Giusto, VP-lead analyst at Outsell
Randy Giusto, VP-lead analyst at Outsell. “PR agencies are entering a marketing shift.”

“PR agencies haven’t gone through the changes that large marketing and advertising firms have been going through for the last few years,” said Randy Giusto, VP and lead analyst for media, advertising and marketing at strategic consultancy firm Outsell. “PR agencies are entering a market shift towards data, measurement, technology and adding the right talent to understand it all.”

Giusto added that if PR agencies fail to significantly alter their business model they “could face an existential threat on multiple fronts.”

One major threat comes from brands and organizations adopting a “brand as publisher” business model, in which companies create and distribute content themselves rather having to rely on agencies.

The marketplace seems to get more Darwinian by the day. However, PR agencies can’t just survive, of course, but thrive.

Giusto recommended three tips for PR agencies for how to get in front of the inevitable changes in the marcom field and not get blindsided.

1. Get marketing automation savvy. With digital spending taking up a growing percentage of PR and marketing budgets, PR agencies must embrace key marketing automation platforms. These are online software programs that wed content with technology in order to boost legitimate business leads. “We’re at an inflection point where PR firms are expected to tap into the technology stream, which includes measurement, digital tools and digital talent,” Giusto said. “Every marketing effort is meticulously measured and PR needs to understand that they will be measured via data too. Having in-house staff who have experience in using similar tools and can talk the same language of martech will enable closer client relationships and more meaningful discussions.”

2. Ramp up recruitment of digital talent. As brands and organizations boost their technology investments, it’s incumbent upon agency owners to hire people “who can make sense of the data coming from the pipes,” Giusto said. That encompasses CRM, marketing automation programs, social listening tools and third-party data revolving around, say, digital influencers. PR agencies can avoid “data only for so long,” Giusto added. “They need to understand that clients are hyperfocused on making data-driven decisions at all levels” and need the attendant talent in order to respond effectively.

3. Learn from the major media players. Media holding companies, such as WPP and Interpublic Group, base their entire business model on one-stop shopping, or having every conceivable media service, including multiple creative, programmatic buying and PR efforts, available under one roof. PR agencies need to adopt the same approach, Giusto said. “Though mid-tier PR agencies are in a bad place, because the mid-tier of any market always gets crushed, firms need to either go big and scale up via acquisition by adding planning and technology assets and go into adjacent markets, or go small and hyperniche and partner for the tools and technology pieces.”