Although there is no definitive definition of
Public Relations (PR) Grunig and Hunt describes it as “a strategic
communication process” that involves the development and maintenance of
mutually beneficial relationships with different publics. (Grunig. J. E. 1984).
PR practitioners use a variation of tools and techniques that vary depending on
the organisations and sectors, which makes it difficult to define the job as a
whole. (Theaker. A. 2016). The job role is constantly growing to encompass
other activities and functions. In order to keep up PR agencies need to
understand the world now and redefine what they do.
Within the article ‘The great debate: Is the
agency really broken?’ (Stein. L. 2015) discusses how the agency and client
model are broken. Referencing Farmer who believes two major factors have
affected this change in agencies over the years, those being the procurement
takeover and the media and social explosion. Procurement can be defined as the management
of goods, work and services from external sources that an organization may need
in order to fulfil its strategic objectives.
“Procurement is the business management function
that ensures identification, sourcing, access and management of the external
resources that an organization needs or may need to fulfill its strategic
objectives” (CIPS. 2018).
Farmer’s explains that procurement takeover
is causing a challenge when it comes to agencies acquiring work, which has
caused a decline in fees. Since the 1980’s procurement teams have become more
involved when it comes to agency selection and management. Economic factors impacting
on how much a company spends means there is less client money to go around. The
effect of procurement and increasing competition is creating pressure on PR
agencies (Iacono. E. 2010).
it comes to measuring and return on investment Van de Wille comments on it
being ‘one of the biggest challenges when it comes to communications’ and that
PR are having to prove their worth “defending your spend” which is difficult to
justify to the financial side of a company when there is no reliable
measurement. This creates greater pressure on PR agencies because in terms of
procurement if there is no understanding of the role involved and difficulty in
providing evidence then it is hard to put a value towards their knowledge and
expertise. From a financial point of view, PR could be seen as irrelevant as
they cannot justify their spend. (Procurement: The
buying game. 2018).
However it could be argued that the
involvement of procurement professionals from the beginning stages when
acquiring PR has a much more beneficial result when there is joint co-operation
from start to finish, as each team will contribute a range of skills throughout
the 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 is
when they are compartmentalised that the purchasing of PR fails. By creating a
good working relationship both teams would be able to understand each others
roles and be able to more easily understand the reasoning process as to why
certain options maybe more appropriate at times. (CIPS 2018)
Competition is greater concern for PR agencies
as clients are constantly looking for simpler solutions. Rather than using a
variety of different agencies to help with their needs more clients are using a
single agency, that houses multiple capabilities in one location as a way of
keeping costs down. Companies are also cutting out agencies altogether and
creating their own in-house departments. Creating a new way of practice is made
more appealing from the scale of savings being made.
Competition for PR agencies has greatly
increased with the likes of advertising agencies hiring people with editorial
and social media skills. (Rogers. D.
2014). To compete with other agencies PR agencies
will have to incorporate roles previously managed by marketing and design
agencies and do more for their clients with fewer staff. Edelmen believes the
PR agencies “have to aspire to do more” they have to be able to compete against
other agencies “in order to evolve in the modern communications mix”. In order
to remain profitable, an agency team has to remain flexible.
Andy Pray, founder of Praytell disagrees with
previous comments and although he believes the agency model isn’t broken, he
does recognise that is has “hundreds of fractures” and referring to talent “as
an industry, we have to work together to do more”. McCarthy supports this idea
that everyone is in the same business to “create meaning for people, each other
The main objective of an agency is to help
clients solve problems. They need to understand if there’s a problem they are
not solving for a client there will somebody else that can. In relation to the
new consumer, clients are demanding a combination of traditional elements and
an enhanced skill set that includes web design and app building. To provide the
best expertise to their clients, agencies need to invest in bringing in new
talent with a range of skills not just communication. In the article, Patrick
Van de Wille refers to the PR industry being a “catch-all for misfits “with
execs having different backgrounds in different businesses but nowadays there
is limited experience and knowledge in the industry as everyone’s field of
expertise is in the same. There is no variety, which is limiting the industry
when it comes to new ways of thinking. The structure of an agency needs to be
broken down so that an evolving team can be built around the ever-changing
demands of individual clients.
With digital media, PR is unable to control
the flow of information. With little cost anyone and everyone can talk freely
about organisations, news, events and the information in readily available.
Gatekeeping theory explains how PR is mainly responsible
for the flow of information for the organisation/publics they represent. What
information should be made public and how it should be framed (Hallahan. K.
1999). Over time the theory has evolved, social networks have enabled ordinary
online users to produce and distribute/redistribute online news and make
comments allowing them to play a greater role known as “audience gatekeeping”
(Shoemaker.P. J. 2009). This form of digital gatekeeping (Digital and social
media) 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 practice
more global, interactive and two-way.
To survive in an online world PR can combine
their knowledge with digital expertise across SEO, web designing, e-marketing,
graphic designer etc. Optimising their content and integrating their campaigns
they can deliver a better service, with better results and ROI. For example PR
links from influential third parties can significantly boost SEO by generating
organic links. By merging PR, social media and SEO and appointing a dedicated
specialist is required to successfully develop and effective multi-channel
communication campaign. By working with marketing automation and making sure
their content is owned PR can determine an outcome by quantifying and
qualifying their work. (All in a day’s work. 2018)
In regards to digital expertise having an
impact on agencies the article refers to the author of Madison Avenue
Manslaughter who suggests that digital media and social media usage has meant
that information is more readily available than ever before “no one or
everybody is an expert”. Consumer behaviour is changing, with the likes of the
new consumer becoming more demanding and thanks to the Internet clients are
becoming 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 their
power. There is no longer an acceptance to what they are told, they are instead
putting their trust in the opinions of likeminded others before making decisions.
(Uzuno?lu. E. 2014) In regards to social media and digital platforms trust is
built on influence, WOM (word of mouth) and consumer conversations.
The use of digital media has seen the rise of
the social influencer. The two-step flow communication theory by (Katz and
Lazarsfeld. 1955) discusses how certain ideals can be passed onto opinion
leaders and through their personal opinions can lead to mass media effects. The
theory claims that compared to mass media this is a more powerful way in
affecting the opinions, attitudes and behaviour of individuals.
An opinion leader can be described as an
individual who plays an influential role towards others in their immediate
Bloggers can now be considered as opinion
leaders as they have become digital influencers that incorporate peer
interaction. Through the digital environment they can communicate messages to
their immediate followers. This can then spread rapidly through multiple
platforms and can lead to a viral effect.
This can relate to Grunig’s situational
theory of publics (Grunig. J. 1997) how members of the public control what
messages 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 share
this information to others.
When it come it comes to the digital world data
can be seen as the currency of business however in the article McCarthy argues
that it’s a “misnomer that data is the answer” and it is how that data is used
that determines an effective strategy. This is corroborated by Gansca who
believes “participation and emotional feedback are key” and this effects the
perception of a piece of content and why it is shared.
He mentions how there is too much emphasis on
data and it depends on what a company does with the data that determines an effective
Over the years client industries and how they
conduct business has changed. Defending the agencies Farmer refers to the
client model and how that is also broken. Due to “companies hiring dozens of
agencies resulting in only a small percentage of voices being heard”. Over the
years clients have become less loyal in favour of content and cost. This could
be down to the client not being able to recognise the skills and talent the
agency has to offer or maybe the positioning of an agency and the people they
Pray adds that is the best time to be in PR
despite all the challenges as agencies have the opportunity for inventing and
implementing a new model. So that firms can find that “balance of strategy and
In order to be successful you have to able to
respond and adapt to the clients needs.
The job role is constantly growing to
encompass other activities and functions. In order to keep up PR agencies need
to understand the world now and redefine what they do.
Both the impact of procurement and digital
and social media has forced agencies to re-evaluate their role and realise that
they need to adapt to the changing environment in which business is conducted. By
taking on a more integrated approach, agencies will find that they are able to
offer a much better service for their clients. The agencies that succeed will
be those that deliver digital solutions and bring results. When it comes to
digital, everything can be tracked and ROI can be measured. Being able to
measure results and provide the evidence helps agencies towards proving their
worth when it comes to procurement.
The industry has and
is changing. The topics have remained the same such as brand management,
publicity and promotion but in todays world they have taken on a different
environment. Now that the world is connected it is about managing technology
and interconnectivity among individuals and organisations.