Can agencies reverse the PR in-housing trend?

There is a developing trend of corporates and brands retaining PR work in-house which has traditionally gone out to agencies, driven by pressure on budgets combined with increasing client demands, and a perception of a value gap. What do PR agencies need to do to protect their businesses – how can they prove their worth?

Demonstrate value added

This can only be done if the client understands what services they are getting, what price they are paying and how the services benefit their business. Agencies need to:

  • highlight the return on investment the client gets from its PR activities
  • demonstrate understanding of the client’s business, its motivations and PR needs
  • show client-focused outcomes
  • demystify and demonstrate the value of their relationships with journalists and media owners, which are unavailable to most clients and show how to leverage these to the client’s advantage.

Highlight specialist skill sets

Agencies need to articulate their specialist skills and market knowledge. For example:

  • explain the challenges to brand safety in the digital environment, how quickly things change, and how agencies are in a position to help combat these and stay on top of developments
  • pitch specialist skills in crisis communications and management
  • showcase their expertise in compliance areas like data protection and advertising law

Agencies are uniquely placed to keep up-to-date with market developments so should show how they can use such skills and knowledge to benefit their clients.

Recruit and retain the best talent

Talent retention and recruitment is a challenge for in-house teams and agencies alike. Agencies need to be seen by clients to have the best talent, so must play to their strengths in order to win on this with the potential to offer higher salaries, better career progression, variety of clients and work, creative culture and for most agencies an appealing central London location.

Invest in technology

The costs of investing in specialist tech can be prohibitive for in-house teams. Agencies should demonstrate the value to the client of their bespoke systems and other technology.

Become the client’s trusted advisor

Build loyalty – move away from being a service supplier to becoming trusted advisors and business partners with brands, bringing strategic, impartial, expert advice. Highlight the different insights agencies can bring as external advisers, free from the sometimes political motivations of internal executives.

Hold the keys

Make sure as far as possible that the agency owns the IP in its creations. Check contracts with clients and employment contracts to ensure proper protection of ideas and products.

Be flexible

Be flexible to the needs of the brand, and be proactive. Consider offering a hybrid model to the client so they can pick the services they want. Look to develop and offer additional services.

In-housing in some shape or form looks here to stay – the key will be for PR agencies to acknowledge this and adapt their services. They must believe in the value of the agency.

Article written by Nigel Stanford, partner at legal firm Cripps Pemberton Greenish

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