PR providers must specialise... or die

18th April, 2014

The latest IPA Bellwether survey (Jan 2014) suggests that many companies are boosting their PR budget this year while others are actively reducing it.*

You’d think in a “recovering” economy it would be about the level of increase, not a question of whether to increase or not to increase.

But one of the confusions is over how you now gauge what is PR spend. The sudden overwhelming focus on ‘digital’ channels, without a clear understanding of exactly how they will work, means very often people are confused about what is PR expenditure, what is marketing and what is advertising.

Others will have to debate and decide whether spending your budget on social media and digital is “marketing” or “PR”.

What’s clear is that traditional PR outfits may find themselves struggling to adapt and stay afloat.

While getting to grips with social media and digital in general is vital (and we are all juggling passwords for Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, tumblr and Twitter accounts) PR is also going to have to remember what it does best — and that is specialise. The days of the PR company as a generalist may be numbered. The offering is going to have to become more focused on specialist disciplines — things like media training, crisis communications and crisis support.

It’s a journalistic truism that news is about people. Always will be. PR is the same. Marketing is too. And in the digital age people will want to hear from people. They want to hear from the doer, the person who knows, the person who makes the car, the jute bag or the seared Cornish scallops with black pudding and spiced apple puree.

What PR pro’s can do that marketers and advertisers can’t is make the client, the doer (the person the public/customer want to hear from on digital channels) a communicator. Teach, educate, guide, train. Call it what you will. Media training is going to become an even more vital slice of the PR pie than ever (alongside other specialisms like crisis communications support, consultancy and advocacy — where the PR stands in for the client when the pressure is on).

Expertise like this doesn’t come cheap. But it’s worth its weight in gold. A day of intensive media training can last a lifetime. An hour of crisis support can save a reputation — and a business. And in the digital age, it will make the PR company much more necessary. As long as they can source that expertise (my number’s at the top of the page).

* This edition of the quarterly IPA Bellwether report polled 300 marketing executives from UK-based companies, of whom more than three-quarters answered questions relating to PR spend. A quarter of respondents expected their PR budget to increase in 2014 but more than 16 per cent expected a decrease, giving a net positive balance of 8.2 per cent.