The great game


"What happens to Online PR?" debate by Phil Sheard
Photo: Phil Sheard

Last Tuesday NMK ran a debate entitled “What Happens to Online PR” – it was packed full of the great and good of ‘Online PR’ and, aside from the debate, it was a great to have a chance to catch-up with everyone.

The evening has already been covered in depth by Roger Warner, Jed Hallam, Jo-Rosie Haffenden, Drew Benvie, Sarah Beavis, Lloyd Gofton and the organiser Ian Delaney, but the point I made in my intervention on the night seems to have been lost.

Much to my delight, the PR industry seems to be taking a very myopic view of the current state of play (as evidenced by PR Week’s coverage of the event). It fails to realise that there is a great game afoot, one that involves all of the advertising and marketing industry, that will be merciless on those that fail to adapt.

Above the line, digital, PR, direct marketing and even media agencies are converging towards the same place, and due to the rise of digital, the battle has been raging for a few years now. Up until recently, the PR industry has been relatively immune from its effects. This will not continue. Agencies of all colours are realising what the future will bring, and are making plans to adapt.

However, just as over the last ten years digital agencies stole a march on above the line agencies by building bigger, better and more motivated specialist teams, thereby innovating faster and developing a critical mass of best practise that accelerated the gap between them and their offline competitors, so conversation agencies will do the same to PR agencies (and, I have to say, to the digital and other agencies also trying to catch-up).

To use ourselves as an example, who else has a team of twelve entirely focused on innovative, creative and effective social media marketing and communications? Each day and each new hire widens the gap between us and those in pursuit.

To quote from Roger Warner’s write-up of the evening:

The people who will write the book are those who make the first convincing moves and are happy to invest and invent. We’ll be delivering best practises in beta mode whilst Big PR is watching on the sidelines.

Update: PR Week finally wakes up:

PR agencies are facing up to a growing threat from the adv­ertising sector after the car giant this week picked MindShare to handle […] digital PR and social media strategy.

‘The advertising industry is focusing its guns on PR bud­get, so our industry is def-in­itely at a crossroads,’ said Katy Howell, MD at Immediate Future. ‘We must step up, educate our clients and widen our reach to include marketing and digital departments.

‘If we do not, there is every likelihood that the PR industry will not exist in five years. We will become a commodity within the bigger, more powerful, media and advertising organisations.’

Update 2: Brian Solis has some further thoughts:

By now, many organizations realize that the success of their brands will be determined online. Yet other than this almost universal consensus, little else about digital has been decided. Its scope is constantly expanding and its growth potential has every marketing discipline jumping to adopt some part of digital as its own turf. “There is all kinds of competition popping up [for digital] and it’s putting a squeeze on communications professionals,” says Brian Solis, founder and president of FutureWorks, a digital PR agency. PR, ad, and direct marketing agencies are all looking to carve a niche in digital as their conventional channels become increasingly irrelevant. With traditional ad revenues decreasing in value and news outlets shuttering, the most viable avenue for future revenue is digital. But the race to capitalize on digital has pitted many of these agencies against each other, especially as the boundaries between marketing, advertising, and PR blur online.

Update 3: Campaign, the advertising industry’s bible, chimes in:

Digital advertising and social media are quickly converging and, while PR is reaping the rewards inside this new space, how long will it be before others muscle in? Already, Beattie McGuinness Bungay, DDB and VCCP are among UK agencies fine-tuning PR and social media offerings and others will quickly follow.