The PR Agency of the Future

13 May

There’s a friend and former colleague of mine (let’s call him ‘Jon’) who I’ve spoken to  often about the future of the PR agency, back when we were both at a very large PR firm.  His take was this: computers and the Internet have taken away the grunt work of public relations — media kit stuffing, faxing, mailings, field trips to the library.   

What clients want is experienced people you don’t have to train.  They don’t have the budgets or patience for the big agency to be a training ground for young execs — they want top people day-to-day.  I tend to agree. 

The logical result is the network of independents — a diverse, virtual network of experienced independent communications professionals on call and willing to dive in together or separately to meet the clients’ needs.

But Adam Singer’s comment to an earlier post of mine got me thinking about a more radical model.  Adam wonders:

What if at a PR firm, everyone was an influencer in some sort of niche.

I think this is another valuable reason all Marketers and PR people should have a blog.

My first thought was, well, that’s not a PR firm.  My next thought that you’d really be blurring a lot of lines as an agency — between client and agency, personal and professional, honest opinion and taking sides for a fee.

But what if you were to create a network of ‘blogger consultants’ — experts in a range of specific fields — from, say, food marketing, to consumer marketing to high-tech to the utilities industry — who are willing and able to consult with clients on their communications issues?  Would that magic line of credibility be blown if, even in a completely open and transparent way, these bloggers advocated for their clients — from providing listings and links to their press releases to periodically commenting on their news and issues — again, with no pretense or illusions that they aren’t a paying client? Or what if they just blogged about potential story ideas that they’d hope other bloggers and professional news people would pick up — kind of an open pitch?

What could the blogger consultant be able to do this and retain credibility in his or her field?   More importantly, how much value would this be to clients? Is anyone doing this kind of thing already?

I put this out there and openly beg for comment — I’m kind of fascinated at the thought and curious to hear what others think?

Let’s discuss! 

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11 Responses to “The PR Agency of the Future”

  1. Kanupriya May 14, 2008 at 12:55 am #

    Hi,
    Well I have heard of few companies doing this ie., hiring blogger as their external communication consultants. This is surely a good idea but well I personally think blogging can’t replace the role of core PR agency. It can definitely take care of some PR role but not all…Also in case of blogging sometimes credibility issue also comes into picture. Are the info provided by all bloggers really considered credible enough?

  2. Ken Kadet May 14, 2008 at 6:54 am #

    Hi, Kanupriya — thanks for writing!

    Well, I’d never make a blanket statement about all bloggers’ credibility — that’d be like making a blanket statement about everyone you meet on the street…!

    I’m not surprised that firms would hire a blogger… and I agree it wouldn’t replace the agency… but could there be value in a ‘blogger-agency’?

  3. Mike Keliher May 14, 2008 at 7:06 am #

    People who consult with clients on communication issues? Represent those clients in the community, with no illusions about the business relationship? Perhaps having a specialization in, say, food & beverage or high-tech?

    I see no difference between what you describe above and the PR firm of the future. Hell, the (leading edge, successful) PR firm of the present is already heading down this path.

    And really, when you think about it, this isn’t a dramatic change, strategically speaking. But in terms of the tactics and the relationships built, it has a different feel, and that makes some folks uncomfortable.

  4. Ken Kadet May 14, 2008 at 8:17 am #

    Hm…good point, Mike. I may be ignoring the diversity of PR practice itself. My agency work was behind the scenes. To stretch a metaphor, I’d write the scripts and talking points, set the stage, manage rehearsals, make sure the critics showed up and hold the stage door open for the client to walk through and perform. I was embarrased the handfull of times I was quoted by a journalist — and would have been just as embarrassed to be quoted by a blogger instead of the client.

    The ‘community’ online is far more public. The blogger-consultant would have to be a public advocate — that’s the nature of the blog. You’d be media and representative. You wouldn’t be opening doors for the client — you’d be talking for them, linking to them and advocating for them in a very public and very personal way … I think there’s a reason it makes people uncomfortable…

    This is pretty common in politics. I’d argue less so in business… the closest equivalent I see is hiring experts to go on media tours and mention the client … and even that can run into transparency issues. But I don’t think many agencies today would allow their employees to talk about their clients on their own blogs — would love to hear otherwise!

  5. Adam Singer May 14, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    Glad to see you took my comment and turned it into a whole thread.

    I’d like to add that even if you didn’t have clients in the specific niche that your firm’s executives were blogging about, purely having people on board who were blogging and shaping the worldview on niches would be powerful.

    Those people understand how to spread ideas and which ideas are “sticky” enough to spread. They are probably smart enough and connected enough to come up with ideas that work in any niche.

    Look at the top marketing bloggers – they have thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers for their ideas. Most of them probably don’t even blog about clients frequently, if at all, but the fact that they are out there spreading ideas proves they understand how to build a buzz.

    It’s the difference between people who love marketing and the people who do it because it’s a job. I’d ALWAYS rather have passionate (or obsessive as some have called me) people on my team.

    Imagine if you had a whole team of people who knew how to spread ideas and were doing it themselves personally daily. You’d have a rockstar team.

  6. Chris Murphy May 14, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    Hiring a bunch of PR people to go out and blog on behalf of a particular company is really not PR in my opinion. To me that is really no different than developing content for a company’s website, or doing advertising. As you are basically putting out a controlled message paid for by the company. PR is working with third-party influencers to get them to tell your story for you, and thus is more credible as they are not on the company dime. Thus, this means interacting with bloggers already out there blogging on a particular subject, sort of like media relations. And this is where I think there is still room for the “grunts” so to speak. As with more and more blogs popping up, the process of tracking, reaching out and interacting with all the bloggers can become quite cumbersome and time consuming. Then again, maybe this shouldn’t be looked at as “grunt” work, just like media relations shouldn’t be (but sometimes is I think). The other thing that companies still will need, and most will ask for, is some way of measuring the results of their outreach efforts…which is always the big challenge with PR it seems:).

  7. Ken Kadet May 14, 2008 at 11:35 am #

    Adam — yeah, is there a way that they could blog about clients and stay credible? I think, under the right circumstances and with the right client, there may be a model under which they could…

    Chris — yes…well, it depends on your definition of PR how you want to practice it. Again, done right, I’d put it in the category of expressing the client’s point of view and engaging people in conversations … which is very PR-like…

  8. Adam Singer May 14, 2008 at 11:51 am #

    as a marketing blogger you could potentially blog about a client campaign…bearing you were transparent and your firm was cool with it

    if you were a marketer who was ALSO passionate about food and had a food blog with credibility and subscriber base, i see no reason you couldn’t blog about a client who was a food client:

    have a look at this blog:
    http://mywoodenspoon.com/

    read the disclaimer page – they are fully transparent, and they have subscribers, readership advertisers — looks successful to me

    you would have to be transparent with it…AND esp if it actually fit with your blog format

    Again though, my initial point with that quote was what i talked about in my previous comment…

  9. David Alston May 14, 2008 at 11:57 am #

    Great discussion here. I’ll come at it from two views, one from a company that helps PR professionals monitoring and analyze social media (Radian6) and the other as a PR/Marketing guy using social media to build a brand (my current role).

    Firstly, there are definitely ways now to easily listen and measure social media for PR pros. A big emphasis on the listening part first. Becoming part of a community (or specializing) usually works best when you can get to know the current influencers and player and what they are saying first. Tools can also have you find these influencers by the topic you are interested in becoming an “expert” in. With millions of discussions happening across all types of social media channels it certainly helps to know which ones are of interest and which ones have the most discussion around them. It’s like landing at a cocktail party in a grand ballroom with a 1000 people all chatting in clusters. It would take you all night to find people who you’d like to get to know based on interests and what they are talking about and you’d miss the majority of the conversations during the hunting process. Tools now existing to pinpoint this in real-time so you can get right down to the targeted listening and then eventually the purposeful engagement.

    Now from my current role perspective I’ve found that influence can be described from two views – traffic/linking/SEO type of influence (online authority) and subject matter influence. To be successful in the space you really need to work on both. If you are already a known expert in a certain field and you join a conversation online or comment then it is possible that people will consider your points because of the influence you’ve gained offline. However, if you are a junior at an agency and you’ve been tasked to “spread the word” on a new piece of news to an appropriate community then you may be in for a rough ride if you don’t have any online authority built up. Using listening tools and appropriately engaging by offering valued content over time is something every PR pro would need to do in advance in order to gain this online authority for later use. This is what a number of social media PR types have done over the past year or so and are probably the best examples of where the blogger/PR concept is already in play.

    Hope this helps to add to the conversation.

  10. Ken Kadet May 14, 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    David — great input — thanks for joining in! In can’t imagine that it’s any more fun for a junior agency person to post and pitch to a big list of bloggers and communities than it was when I started out pitching names from 10-page media lists pulled from the old Bacon’s books.

    It’s an interesting point … and I think to Adam’s point as well … it may be that just being active and engaged in various online communities will give agency reps some credibility — if not in specific subjects but as intelligent contributors to online discussions … and thus may be less dismissed when posting on behalf of clients…

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