Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Changing Business Model of PR Agencies – Are We Ready?

Changing Business Models

Recently there was news that Fleishman-Hillard adopted a positioning for themselves as an agency that is Channel Agnostic, which according to Dave Senay, the agency’s president and CEO, means that now the agency will help their clients not only to get coverage in earned media but will also help them to explore opportunities in paid media as well.

Couple of months back, I had also written about Edelman acquiring Cream Event, which was strategically aimed to bringing in public engagement communications model to the Indian market. We have already witnessed emergence of digital/social media wings of PR agencies to help their clients effectively communicate on the digital mediums as well. 

On the other hand, the trend started by the India’s leading publication house of yellow journalism (paid news) is fast catching up with other publications as well and soon you will find sponsored / advertorials getting equal prominence or probably more than the pure news stories in almost all publications. Few content marketing entrepreneurs were quick to identify this trend at a very early stage and are doing brisk business today.

Does all this give us an indication that soon we may see an evolution of a different type of PR agencies offering multiple services under one roof? Will we see a merger of event, advertising and PR agencies to offer integrated services? Nikhil Jasuja, a colleague and a Brand Manager at Tata Housing, enlightened me that in 1980s there were some agencies born out of corporate institutions, offering multiple services in an integrated format under one umbrella, maybe we are going back to that era all over again!

May be or maybe not, but one thing is certain that PR agencies have been realising the need to offer integrated solutions to their clients so that the uniformity of the messages conveyed can be maintained across the platforms/mediums used. While interacting with some industry leaders on this subject, I got some very interesting insights from industry leaders such as Jaideep Shergill, CEO of MSL Group, India, who says, “The way people communicate and take decisions has undergone a 360-degree transformation. Agencies, therefore, should look to expand their range of offerings that take into account this phenomenon as well as the fact that media itself is changing. Monologue (read: advertising) is no longer the most effective way for brands to communicate. Stakeholders are looking to be heard and be engaged on various platforms. Each brand is different; hence, its communication needs are varied. It is imperative that agencies build capabilities that can service these diverse needs. These capabilities include digital services, design, content, research and insights, public affairs and crisis management. An integrated offering is do-or-die now for agencies.”

Radhika Shapoorjee, President, South Asia, IPAN Hill+Knowlton Strategies, also shares a similar view, she says, “I believe we play a larger bigger role where integrated is certainly one of the ways that agencies will need to view their campaigns. The main aim of Public relations is the ability to build credible relationships with the important stakeholder and publics and for that there is a need to reach out to your publics at many levels including through media.”

But is this transformation really taking place as not every PR firm is equipped to be everything its clients need in one shop? Paul Holmes of The Holmes Report, in one of his articles states that “Many of the world’s largest agencies, and a surprising number of midsize firms, continue to operate as if little has changed. Their infrastructure is a legacy from a different age, they have the same practice areas (often conflating actual practices such as corporate communications and product marketing, with industry sectors such as healthcare and technology), the same geographic structures, the same silos that served them (not always well) a decade or more ago.” In Jaideep’s words, “Integrated services require investments and patience. Smaller agencies would not have this luxury. As they grow, they certainly would look to offer integrated services but as of now they would see greater traction in traditional media relations.” He is also quick to add that “Most leading agencies are adding these capabilities. Some, like MSLGROUP India and Adfactors PR, have already done so. Others are moving quickly on this front. It won’t be long before most large agencies offer integrated services.”

On asked if even clients be interested working with a PR agency offering integrated services, he says “We are already seeing great demand from clients, who are signing us up for integrated services. The evolutionary arc has been slow and long, but things are changing fast now. We’ve been offering integrated services for a few years now. We spotted the trend early and made the right investments. Not only that, but several of our clients now insist on an integrated approach. Our integrated service offering includes, apart from traditional media relations, design, advertising, social media, content, research and insights, public affairs, crisis management and media training. Our clients include multinationals as well as Indian corporations.”

If we have to believe Jaideep, Paul, Radhika and many other industry leaders, who vouch for an integrated offering then the primary question that comes to my mind is that are we the current day PR professionals ready to take on this new approach or we are heading towards redundancy?

In such a scenario what are we expected to learn or unlearn to equip ourselves to be relevant? With this question I throw open the floor for you to comment on the skills and attitudes we need to gear ourselves with, to meet the impending industry demands.  You can either comment on this forum itself or on my blog just tweet @vikramkharvi


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Categorised in: Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

6 Responses »

  1. Agreed, lot of agencies are positioning themselves as integrated services player; but they don’t have enough credibility to showcase and deliver at a higher scale. They are still emerging in their infancy stage.

  2. The integration model works well as long as you pitch to small and medium sized clients because they are the most to benefit out of this practice. For large sized organisations, they have internal teams that work on content and may not find the agency offerings relevant in that sphere. That said, it is good to develop an integrated marketing approach because today business comes from multiple channels.

  3. Good one Vikram… although PR Agencies have realised the change in environment, they are stuck with traditional PR and reluctant to adopt multimedia strategy

  4. Takes us back to the “Paid, earned or owned” media debate.

  5. Only change is permanent. If we do not upgrade ourselves with time, we will be obsolete. PR trends have changed and so have PR tools and tactics. As PR professionals we too need some introspection!

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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