PRmoment.comPRmoment GLOBAL

Three lessons that PR’s failure to win CSR, social and content business teach us, by Cass Business School’s Robert Phillips

11th April 2013

The footballing cliché runs that teams must score when they are dominating the game. PR consultancies often manage early possession, but then struggle to find the back of the net. It happened with CSR and with social and now with content, too – a failure to convert early-mover advantage into sustained leadership. We let others steal our clothes and then bemoan their encroachment on “our” space. For a profession that prides itself on the quality of its strategic advice, it is perverse that we so consistently forget to take our own. This is partly a failure of visionary leadership; partly the lack of a rigorously defined point of view about our very purpose; but mostly a question of economics and business models. With the exception of the big, consultancy networks, PR rarely achieves scale. And, where the holding company groups do deliver scale, so some of the choicest bits are invariably siphoned off to the media houses and ad guys. Why? Because they make a better case for the economics and are able to enumerate their arguments on a factual base. This is exactly what is now happening with content and data. PR is increasingly banished to the fringes. With CSR, we spotted the longer term trend towards “responsibility” and the necessary citizen-centricity of corporations and brands. But rather than focus on and leverage the strategic thought, we became complicit in the green-washing of responsibility into a mere communications tool – de-legitimising issues of real purpose while the management consultancies, and others, monetised the idea. Communications remained our safe haven: something of a cocoon. It was an easy way out. We are watching a similar pattern unfold with content. An inevitable consequence of the social world, content was always going to be its currency. We knew to say content would be king and that it has to be “likeable, shareable and atomic”, but few have moved seriously and aggressively into the content space, preferring words to actions. Professor Richard Sambrook recently argued that no PR firm really does content well: certainly few have properly explored scalable production partnerships or game-changing studio deals. Though later converts, the ad agencies have managed to reinvent (not for the first time) the 30-second ad, while the media shops do deals based more on eyeballs than creativity or community. The forward-thinking of PR has thus been subsumed within a moderated old advertising model. Once again, PR folk have allowed the marketing veneer to cover a proper business play – and have receded in influence as a result. There are three lessons to learn from our failure to score with CSR, social and content: First, we need to make a much better case for the profession of PR, redefining and re-articulating our own purpose. Without understanding what we stand for, what we can contribute, and how we can prove our success, we risk becoming little more than a cottage-industry niche player. Our purpose starts with helping corporations understand their own purposes and their authentic stories. Second, we need to sell more than our time. The smaller boutiques and medium-sized firms are often limited by their heavy reliance on the time of their rock-star founders. We need to make a better case for our brands, not just our people, and how they differentiate and impact commercial success. We need to be paid for strategy and for ideas and we need to be remunerated for success. That’s why the shift to an aligned measurement model and a real understanding of data is so vital. This remains our Achilles’ heel and an excuse for clients not to pay better money. Third, we need to be as literate in the hardcore of economics as we are in the softer-core of ideas. The idea alone is not enough. We can help find and socialise it for sure, but we also have to measure its business impact. We cannot use press cuttings or hyper-links to justify success. Without this, we are lost. Robert Phillips is visiting professor at Cass Business School and former EMEA CEO of Edelman

© 2018 - PRmoment. All Rights reserved. Company registration no. 6651850

Website design & build by CHIEF