Five big challenges for PR agencies right now

I met up with the CEO of an international PR firm the other day. The entire chat was off the record but he didn’t hold back, here are a few thoughts he had on UK PR:

1. Recruitment at director level rarely works

Director level recruits rarely have the confidence to meet their potential. Most PR agencies are gladiatorial in their internal rivalries and personal confidence is a key ingredient to success. If you move at director level you immediately lose your internal fan base and do not have sufficient internal political capital or the gravitas to make things happen.

2. PR people are paid too much

Not at the lower and mid-level but at the senior level. If you earn £100K+ you need brilliant – good or average is not enough. You need to be able to win business and offer excellent client counsel. You must be able to look at your billable time and, bearing in mind the businesses overheads, charge more than what you are paid by at least 50%. If you are not – you’re being paid more than the company can afford.

3. The PR sector’s over servicing D day is coming

If an agency is making a 40% margin, it can afford to over service at 10%. If an agency is making a 15% margin, it cannot afford to over service clients at 20%. In short – as PR agency margins are being squeezed, over servicing becomes a business critical issue.

4. PR people are becoming irrelevant to PR

The skill base of public relations has changed. Massively. Therefore if you were a successful PR practitioner 10 years ago, you have no more than a fighting chance of being a great PR practitioner today. PR used to be about the ability to write, press releases, media relations, and the sell in. It’s now about the ability to write, press releases, media relations, the sell in, SEO, video production, social media engagement, real time decisions, the importance of trust, branding...

5. Procurement has done a bad job in PR

Simplistically, the role of a procurement professional is to attempt to create a standardised cost per unit for everything. If you are buying stationery, this is OK. If you are buying transport, or real estate, again this is OK. Not ideal, but OK. If you are buying advertising, this kind of works because you can see the volume in that you are buying. But, if you are buying PR in this way – the only end game is that PR is broken down into units of effort, time, or output. In short, procurement concentrates in the variables that are easy to measure. As a result of the procurement process PR becomes a commodity. And worse still a commodity without value only costs.

What’s your ESG risk?