Although there is no definitive definition ofPublic Relations (PR) Grunig and Hunt describes it as “a strategiccommunication process” that involves the development and maintenance ofmutually beneficial relationships with different publics. (Grunig. J. E. 1984).PR practitioners use a variation of tools and techniques that vary depending onthe organisations and sectors, which makes it difficult to define the job as awhole.
(Theaker. A. 2016). The job role is constantly growing to encompassother activities and functions.
In order to keep up PR agencies need tounderstand the world now and redefine what they do. Within the article ‘The great debate: Is theagency really broken?’ (Stein. L. 2015) discusses how the agency and clientmodel are broken.
Referencing Farmer who believes two major factors haveaffected this change in agencies over the years, those being the procurementtakeover and the media and social explosion. Procurement can be defined as the managementof goods, work and services from external sources that an organization may needin order to fulfil its strategic objectives.”Procurement is the business management functionthat ensures identification, sourcing, access and management of the externalresources that an organization needs or may need to fulfill its strategicobjectives” (CIPS. 2018). Farmer’s explains that procurement takeoveris causing a challenge when it comes to agencies acquiring work, which hascaused a decline in fees. Since the 1980’s procurement teams have become moreinvolved when it comes to agency selection and management.
Economic factors impactingon how much a company spends means there is less client money to go around. Theeffect of procurement and increasing competition is creating pressure on PRagencies (Iacono. E. 2010).
Whenit comes to measuring and return on investment Van de Wille comments on itbeing ‘one of the biggest challenges when it comes to communications’ and thatPR are having to prove their worth “defending your spend” which is difficult tojustify to the financial side of a company when there is no reliablemeasurement. This creates greater pressure on PR agencies because in terms ofprocurement if there is no understanding of the role involved and difficulty inproviding evidence then it is hard to put a value towards their knowledge andexpertise. From a financial point of view, PR could be seen as irrelevant asthey cannot justify their spend.
(Procurement: Thebuying game. 2018). However it could be argued that theinvolvement of procurement professionals from the beginning stages whenacquiring PR has a much more beneficial result when there is joint co-operationfrom start to finish, as each team will contribute a range of skills throughoutthe process. The PR Procurement cycle can be split into three stages: planning,purchasing and performance. All the stages are related to one another and it iswhen they are compartmentalised that the purchasing of PR fails.
By creating agood working relationship both teams would be able to understand each othersroles and be able to more easily understand the reasoning process as to whycertain options maybe more appropriate at times. (CIPS 2018) Competition is greater concern for PR agenciesas clients are constantly looking for simpler solutions. Rather than using avariety of different agencies to help with their needs more clients are using asingle agency, that houses multiple capabilities in one location as a way ofkeeping costs down.
Companies are also cutting out agencies altogether andcreating their own in-house departments. Creating a new way of practice is mademore appealing from the scale of savings being made. Competition for PR agencies has greatlyincreased with the likes of advertising agencies hiring people with editorialand social media skills. (Rogers. D.2014). To compete with other agencies PR agencieswill have to incorporate roles previously managed by marketing and designagencies and do more for their clients with fewer staff.
Edelmen believes thePR agencies “have to aspire to do more” they have to be able to compete againstother agencies “in order to evolve in the modern communications mix”. In orderto remain profitable, an agency team has to remain flexible. Andy Pray, founder of Praytell disagrees withprevious comments and although he believes the agency model isn’t broken, hedoes recognise that is has “hundreds of fractures” and referring to talent “asan industry, we have to work together to do more”.
McCarthy supports this ideathat everyone is in the same business to “create meaning for people, each otherand consumers”. The main objective of an agency is to helpclients solve problems. They need to understand if there’s a problem they arenot solving for a client there will somebody else that can. In relation to thenew consumer, clients are demanding a combination of traditional elements andan enhanced skill set that includes web design and app building. To provide thebest expertise to their clients, agencies need to invest in bringing in newtalent with a range of skills not just communication. In the article, PatrickVan de Wille refers to the PR industry being a “catch-all for misfits “withexecs having different backgrounds in different businesses but nowadays thereis limited experience and knowledge in the industry as everyone’s field ofexpertise is in the same.
There is no variety, which is limiting the industrywhen it comes to new ways of thinking. The structure of an agency needs to bebroken down so that an evolving team can be built around the ever-changingdemands of individual clients. With digital media, PR is unable to controlthe flow of information. With little cost anyone and everyone can talk freelyabout organisations, news, events and the information in readily available. Gatekeeping theory explains how PR is mainly responsiblefor the flow of information for the organisation/publics they represent. Whatinformation should be made public and how it should be framed (Hallahan.
K.1999). Over time the theory has evolved, social networks have enabled ordinaryonline users to produce and distribute/redistribute online news and makecomments allowing them to play a greater role known as “audience gatekeeping”(Shoemaker.
P. J. 2009). This form of digital gatekeeping (Digital and socialmedia) is a revolutionary force that implements a way in which PR is practised.It should not be seen as a replacement but as a new form of PR that makes the practicemore global, interactive and two-way. To survive in an online world PR can combinetheir knowledge with digital expertise across SEO, web designing, e-marketing,graphic designer etc. Optimising their content and integrating their campaignsthey can deliver a better service, with better results and ROI.
For example PRlinks from influential third parties can significantly boost SEO by generatingorganic links. By merging PR, social media and SEO and appointing a dedicatedspecialist is required to successfully develop and effective multi-channelcommunication campaign. By working with marketing automation and making suretheir content is owned PR can determine an outcome by quantifying andqualifying their work.
(All in a day’s work. 2018) In regards to digital expertise having animpact on agencies the article refers to the author of Madison AvenueManslaughter who suggests that digital media and social media usage has meantthat information is more readily available than ever before “no one oreverybody is an expert”. Consumer behaviour is changing, with the likes of thenew consumer becoming more demanding and thanks to the Internet clients arebecoming better informed.
They are no longer relying on the expertise of agencies;they are able to conduct their own research and have greater awareness of theirpower. There is no longer an acceptance to what they are told, they are insteadputting their trust in the opinions of likeminded others before making decisions.(Uzuno?lu. E. 2014) In regards to social media and digital platforms trust isbuilt on influence, WOM (word of mouth) and consumer conversations. The use of digital media has seen the rise ofthe social influencer. The two-step flow communication theory by (Katz andLazarsfeld. 1955) discusses how certain ideals can be passed onto opinionleaders and through their personal opinions can lead to mass media effects.
Thetheory claims that compared to mass media this is a more powerful way inaffecting the opinions, attitudes and behaviour of individuals. An opinion leader can be described as anindividual who plays an influential role towards others in their immediateenvironment. Bloggers can now be considered as opinionleaders as they have become digital influencers that incorporate peerinteraction. Through the digital environment they can communicate messages totheir immediate followers. This can then spread rapidly through multipleplatforms and can lead to a viral effect.
This can relate to Grunig’s situationaltheory of publics (Grunig. J. 1997) how members of the public control whatmessages they are exposed to and the extended research of Kim and Grunig (Kim. 2011)which explains how and why people control their exposure and how they sharethis information to others. When it come it comes to the digital world datacan be seen as the currency of business however in the article McCarthy arguesthat it’s a “misnomer that data is the answer” and it is how that data is usedthat determines an effective strategy. This is corroborated by Gansca whobelieves “participation and emotional feedback are key” and this effects theperception of a piece of content and why it is shared.He mentions how there is too much emphasis ondata and it depends on what a company does with the data that determines an effectivestrategy.
Over the years client industries and how theyconduct business has changed. Defending the agencies Farmer refers to theclient model and how that is also broken. Due to “companies hiring dozens ofagencies resulting in only a small percentage of voices being heard”. Over theyears clients have become less loyal in favour of content and cost. This couldbe down to the client not being able to recognise the skills and talent theagency has to offer or maybe the positioning of an agency and the people theyemploy. Pray adds that is the best time to be in PRdespite all the challenges as agencies have the opportunity for inventing andimplementing a new model. So that firms can find that “balance of strategy andscrappiness”.
In order to be successful you have to able torespond and adapt to the clients needs. ConclusionThe job role is constantly growing toencompass other activities and functions. In order to keep up PR agencies needto understand the world now and redefine what they do. Both the impact of procurement and digitaland social media has forced agencies to re-evaluate their role and realise thatthey need to adapt to the changing environment in which business is conducted. Bytaking on a more integrated approach, agencies will find that they are able tooffer a much better service for their clients. The agencies that succeed willbe those that deliver digital solutions and bring results.
When it comes todigital, everything can be tracked and ROI can be measured. Being able tomeasure results and provide the evidence helps agencies towards proving theirworth when it comes to procurement. The industry has andis changing. The topics have remained the same such as brand management,publicity and promotion but in todays world they have taken on a differentenvironment. Now that the world is connected it is about managing technologyand interconnectivity among individuals and organisations.