This is a post from PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.
Last week I attended a Social Media Club Boston event called “The Evolution of PR, Marketing & Digital: What’s Next for the Agency World?” It featured panel speakers from big PR agencies (FleishmanHillard and Racepoint Global), a small virtual PR agency (PerkettPR) and an ad agency (Mullen).
So just how have these firms “evolved”? Here’s what I took away from the discussion about what’s it like to work at a PR agency in 2014:
Agencies today offer a mix of disciplines
As FleishmanHillard’s Seth Bloom pointed out, it used to be that no matter what client they were pitching or what the business objective happened to be, agencies primarily offered some flavor of media relations as the solution. There was talk about integrated marketing campaigns, but those rarely came together unless you were working with a very large brand that had a budget large enough to grab the attention of multiple sister agencies and could afford the massive amount of coordination work. As an example of how this has changed, Bloom ended his presentation with a short video his team created to tease the launch of a new, waterproof Samsung phone. I couldn’t help but think how the launch would have been teed up ten years ago, most likely with a focus on media pre-briefings.
Now agencies offer lots of different services under one roof. A typical corporate CMO wants a mix of paid, owned and earned media and PR agencies are more and more frequently offering it, rather than just a piece of it. I wonder if this means the new business teams at PR firms find themselves going up against new types of competitors and having to position themselves against different types of agencies? Tom Foremski thinks now is the time for PR agencies to go after ad agency business.
What does this ‘new agency look’ mean for staff? Employees at PR firms are expected to understand the ins and outs of each discipline — as Racepoint’s Dan Carter said, “you need to know what a creative brief is.” Account teams need to know how to package and sell different program elements and also, importantly, how to report the results in a way that a CMO can appreciate and understand.
Account teams touch lots of technology throughout the day
Without fail, these types of events always feature a question about what tools are most useful. I think everyone just wants to make sure they’re not missing anything. The panelists didn’t disappoint – they rattled off a laundry list of technology used by their firms to monitor, manage and report on work being done. The names included tools for tracking sentiment, cross-channel posting, listening, content creation, analytics, email marketing and social marketing. Skyword, Netbase and Hootsuite all got shout-outs, and the bigger agency representatives mentioned the proprietary platforms and software they use, such as FH’s Blackbox, as well as a social media task force (at Racepoint) that evaluates new technology as it comes along.
Employees are more diverse
Although one of the perks of working at a PR firm is being surrounded by co-workers who do the same type of work you do and understand what you’re going through, that may be starting to change. As agencies branch out with a wider array of service offerings, they’re hiring workers with different skill sets. Mullen’s Eric Fulwiler, who has worked previously at VaynerMedia, Forbes.com and the Clinton Foundation, advocates hiring the right talent, which you should identify by gut and then train internally.
The panelists settled on some core skills that remain important for agency hires, including writing skills, media savvy, judgment (empathy), an entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to learn and to work with others who have different perspectives. As always, PR agency pros are expected to dive deep into their clients’ cultures. Today they’re also expected to be savvy about indirect competition like pop culture.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.