Resetting the ‘PR’ button?

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but the conversation on the future of the PR industry seems to have kicked up a notch in the last few months. The PRCA in collaboration with Ketchum have been leading the debate/discussion on this.

This is a debate that’s always been around but appears to have more people soul searching than I can remember.

As the whole ‘social media thing’ seems to be entering into the trough of disillusionment, PR firms and practitioners are starting to wonder what value they truly offer clients and organisations. It appears the PR industry is going through a trough of disillusionment.

Something I haven’t seen by way of debate from the PRCA though (which given what the acronym stands for, we should) is the notion of ‘consultancy’ versus ‘agency’ thinking. This is an area I’ve been fascinated with for a while now in particular as the consultancy industry as we know is going through a shake up of its own.

For too long those working in PR have adopted an agency mentality – we’ll do what you want for a retained fee and provide you with the results on a regular basis. The main reason you hire us is because you probably don’t have the time or resource to do it yourself. 

PR, sadly, in most circles has become synonymous with media coverage and relationship building with stakeholders of varying degrees. Agencies are relied upon to ‘oil the wheels of this process’. There are obviously exceptions but in the main this is how things play out. And it works. In fact, it still works for many.

Then however there’s the consulting approach. This is more about businesses having a problem they don’t know how to solve. In most cases it’s not about throwing bodies at a problem. An organisation has already thought through a problem and are stumped. So they’ll call in consultants to help work through how to solve this. Typically this function fell to management consultants who employed very smart people to come up with solutions to specific problems. Again that works. And still works for many.

But the landscape of online behaviour is changing things. Running businesses where the expectations of customers, potential customers, employees, shareholders and competitors are changing by the minute means for those in PR specific functions, areas that might have required an ‘agency’ offering means they now need a ‘consultancy’ solution.

It’s only a subtle difference. But a difference none the less. Setting the expectation and delivering on it are real business issues now because the expectation being set externally by industry-agonistic leaders who’s work is viewed in public forums.

In essence, the communications function is now inadvertently more strategic and thought through than ever before. Governments and public bodies have long realised this. Social networking software has pretty much forced businesses to catch up.

So what does that mean for the the PR industry?

In my view, if you’re in the strategic space you need to follow the consulting methodology. In all likelihood this means project work, developing analytically derived insights,  outcomes based results and pretty much staking your reputation on your recommendations.

As ever, all views and counter points welcome.

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Can the PR industry handle an inconvenient truth?

Those active on the UK PR Twitter scene will have noticed this morning’s launch of a Media Spamming Charter, the latest episode in the ongoing discussion about the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists. The debate is one that has raged for as long as I’ve been in the industry andshows no sign of abating. There’s hardly a week that goes by without a rant about poorly-targeted pitches or the overuse of the #PRFAIL hashtag. As someone who started off my PR career within a professional body, I recognise the need for a collaborative approach to improve and maintain standards within any industry and as such applaud the CIPRPRCA,IRS and NUJ for taking a stance on what is a serious problem for the reputation of PROs.

However, questions will always remain on how serious the Charter will be taken by clients and those most guilty of spamming. Many have long argued that self-regulation is the answer, and in my time I’ve called for ‘naming and shaming.’ I’ve since mellowed on that front – maybe because I’m getting old – but the argument will carry on unless something drastic changes.

It remains to be seen whether simply having a charter actually goes far enough as I’m sure some will probably just view it as an overly-bureaucratic exercise that carries little weight. But at least it’s a step in the right direction, particularly as the lines between PR and other marketing disciplines blur and we become exposed (albeit not binded) to other codes of practice. Plus it beats naming and shaming.