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Are PR Agencies Proving Their True Worth to Clients?

[fa icon="calendar"] 01-Nov-2016 09:00:45 / by Iliyana Stareva

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We've known PR to be slow at adopting new trends and technologies. 

There's a lot of talking being done around how PR needs to evolve and reinvent itself because if it doesn't, PR people will die out like dinosaurs

That's a scary thought. But valid when we think about PR's traditional focus on outputs rather than the actual value they provide to clients. 

This is especially visible today when digital rules our lives and allows PR people to measure the results of their activities and if done right, to tie them back to actual money through influenced sales numbers.

That's easier said than done, though, because the reality is, very few PR agencies are able to do so today.

There seems to be a disconnect between what PR agencies can do for their clients and what they actually end up offering them.

That's my main learning from the latest PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report 2016.   

The research looks into how PR uses digital communications across industries as well as among in-house PR people and PR agencies. 

Today I'm going to cover some of the results from the point of view of PR agencies and that of clients. 

Now, starting with the most important question around money, the two main reasons for companies to not use social are a lack of budget (46%) or a lack of staff (32%). 

Often times, these two fall together because the company cannot afford a full-time person to do social and digital nor does their existing personnel have the knowledge for that so they revert to agencies for help where often the monthly retainer is cheaper than a full-time salary.

The good news is that budgets for digital are up 16% since last year and are expected to go up in the next 12 months, particularly for video content, web design build and paid social activities.

Interestingly, the top service offerings by PR agencies are:

  • blogger/influencer outreach (86%)
  • video-based content (86%) 
  • social influencer outreach (85%)

The biggest drops in service offering are monitoring and listening to customers (down by 21%) and SEO (down by 20%). These puzzle me a bit, particularly the monitoring part as without it, how do you make informed decisions for any of the rest? 

Now, let's flip it. Here's what clients expect and purchase from PR agencies the most: 

  • online media outreach (65%)
  • online press release distribution (65%)
  • social influencer outreach (61%)

According to the results, PR agencies mainly help clients with media or social influencer relations but funny enough with little else from the digital realm to nothing.

This is where I get worried. Because as much as PR pros are great at influencer and media relations, there's a lot more PR can offer. But clients are not being presented with these options or they don't trust PR people to be proficient at any of the other digital areas because unfortunately that's the reputation PR has. 

The PR industry needs to break this. It needs to finally learn to adapt. Quickly. SEO and social were missed but there's so much more out there like owned content and lead generation, email marketing and lead nurturing etc. - all activities that to perform well need great content, storytelling and audience understanding, which is what PR people excel at the most.

This is the reason why I developed the Inbound PR methodology and concept with an agency twist. It's not so much a rigid model to follow but more an urge and a warning to a much needed mindset change. It doesn't matter what we call things, it's about what we do and how we do things to be seen as a worthwhile board-level industry.

It's time for a change. There's a lot of learning to be done but the opportunity cost is too big to ignore.

Are you going to change?


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Topics: Public Relations, Inbound PR

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Program Manager in the Chief of Staff office for CX EMEAR at Cisco where she is the operational leader for all things Customer Success. In her previous roles at HubSpot, she led major cross-functional change for the global Partner Program with her detail-oriented approach to project management and advised hundreds of agencies on how to transform their businesses with inbound and digital. During that time, she earned the globally recognised Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification by the PMI. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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