PR Directors are working with one hand tied behind their back, says Jim Hawker

It is somewhat ironic that a profession such as PR, which is so broad in its definition and scope of work, is increasingly suffering from an inability to break into other marketing channels and prove its influence.

Having an isolationist view of PR is dangerous to the future health of our industry. PR influence is becoming narrower and narrower, not because of the industry’s want and need to expand but because of the client side perception of what PR agencies can deliver.

Increasingly we find that when we pitch to PR directors or managers on the client side, their own sphere of influence is very limited in terms of the ability of a PR agency to deliver the kind of integrated digital work that is needed in order for campaigns to succeed.

As we approach the second anniversary of our merging a PR agency with a digital marketing agency, it is becoming very clear that the best success we have is when we are reporting not into PR professionals on the client side – but to Marketing Directors.

Marketing Directors have a more holistic view of the organisation, understand how digital and comms channels work together and are able to access different budgets to enable true digital integration.

PR professionals on the client side are working with one hand tied behind their back. Those that understand the opportunity that combining earned, owned and paid approaches can deliver are often unable to make this a reality. Budgets and responsibilities are so compartmentalised that they are often left with what is regarded as a very traditional form of PR – which does this industry no favours at all.

Generally digital knowledge on the PR side is so much more limited than that of their marketing counterparts to the point that we are getting into a position where we are working more effectively with clients whose view of the world goes beyond reputation and traditional PR techniques.

By working with marketing directors we are able to have much more sensible conversations about commercial strategy around the work we are proposing. That is where the opportunities lie for our future – creating commercially impactful campaigns as well as delivering reputational benefits.

These days we are creating editorial led content, seeding it and then retargeting those that have engaged with the content and then being able to track conversion to sale. These are the sort of conversations we all need to be having with clients rather than defaulting to a consumer campaign that generates survey led coverage, the impact of which can’t be measured beyond soft metrics.

Are we are a PR agency? No we aren’t. Can we do PR? Yes. The reason we don’t describe ourselves as a PR agency is that increasingly the decision makers on the client side are not PR managers and I don’t hold much hope that this will change quick enough for our industry to thrive in the digital arena.

Jim Hawker is Co-founder at Threepipe.

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