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PR and the survival of the fittest

Blog post   •   May 28, 2014 08:15 BST

There’s a schism opening up in the PR industry. There are some agencies that have put the work in to understand how the communications environment is evolving and are adapting their services, structure and skill sets in response. But there are many more agencies that, well, haven’t. And more to the point, show no sign of doing so.

The thing is, it’s not as if newspaper circulations have suddenly declined overnight. Or as if social media only went mainstream yesterday. We’ve had years to start thinking and planning and adjusting. But so many agencies are still stuck in an ‘old PR’ mindset of media relations and account teams based on hierarchy rather than skills.


With this, and the upcoming FutureComms14 conference, in mind, I took it upon myself to try and identify some key differences between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘have not’.

I asked a number of senior professionals in leading PR agencies what non-traditional services they had provided this year, and what they think will be the major area of development for PR in the next 12-24 months. I then opened up the question to ‘everyone else’.

The responses highlighted some striking differences.

Social Media Content

Among the leading agencies, creating digital content for social networks and designing infographics is now part of everyday life, with 88% and 75% of respondents having carried this out since January. However, only one in four of other agencies has produced social media content, and only 40% have designed an infographic.



Video is becoming ever-more important and now forms a major part of leading agencies’ content creation (63%), but far less so for the wider community (40%).


Paid Media

As marketing, advertising and communications converge, media buying and planning is an area that is fast forming part of the PR mix. But while half of the leading agencies are now involved in media buying and/or planning, only 1 in 10 of other agencies is.


Channel Marketing

It was very interesting to observe that while the wider community of agencies is producing tactical executions involving email marketing and literature design, the leading agencies have moved on from these channels, with very few developing campaigns which use these tactics. Their campaigns are, instead, more likely to utilise mobile apps and animation.


The Future

Robert Philips, former EMEA CEO of Edelman, is currently writing a book entitled ‘Trust Me: PR is Dead’, stating that the PR philosophy is redundant and that its business model is broken. His argument is an interesting one that deserves more consideration than the sensationalist title perhaps suggests.

To be fair, things have started to move. Leading agencies are adapting to become providers of content marketing services, unshackling themselves from the limitations of outdated PR. They’re investing in proper data analysis and insight identification. They’re trying hard to prove their worth.

But new types of competition are arising. Just last week The Drum, a media brand that has built its reputation around publishing and events, launched a content marketing agency that will undoubtedly compete directly with PR. At last week’s PR is Changing conference, Precise Media revealed that among its 450 clients, only about 1% is properly measuring business outcomes.

There is clearly much work to be done. And until PR stops paying lip service to the significant changes in the communications industry and actually acts upon them, little will change. Only the fit will survive.


Paul Sutton is Head of Social Communications and an Associate Director at communications consultancy BOTTLE, where he advises the company’s client base on the strategic integration of digital and traditional media. He has worked with organisations including Honda, AXA PPP healthcare, BSkyB, Pepsico, Glaxo SmithKline and Premier Foods. He also blogs at

You can follow Paul on Twitter @ThePaulSutton