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What are the PR geeks doing?

12th September 2013


For a couple of years now PR agencies have been rushing to recruit more digital talent. This has followed the realisation that the skills required of public relations professionals have changed. Whilst all the traditional skills such as the ability to sell and the ability to write are still important, there are now a number of other skills and attributes that are essential in PR. This has meant that both PR agencies and in house PR departments need to recruit more geeks. But what are these digital geeks actually doing? The answer is, of course, that they are doing lots of things. They are writing code for websites. They are building apps. And some of them are trawling data to identify audiences, customers and influences. Many of the more creative geeks are also spending their time producing digital content. This can be in the form of video, audio and the written word. This is an exciting trend and the PR agency market deserves credit for evolving its business model away from pure media relations work. Winner and losers That said, in my experience  - where there is a winner, there has to be a loser. So who are PR agencies winning this business from? The day-to-day, real time and nimble structures that PR agencies tend to have suits the needs and response times that are required for digital content right now. Brands are therefore turning to PR agencies (not exclusively) to produce the content. Be that websites, apps, video etc. The idea that PR agencies are winning web site building, app producing and video content work from digital agencies is, if you consider where the PR sector has come from 4 to 5 years ago, in my opinion, a big feather in their cap. The most innovative and creative agencies have evolved their businesses (they needed to) to open up new revenue streams whilst retaining the important media relations and corporate comms work at the same time. If you look at the structure of PR agencies competitors – for example management consultants, ad agencies and digital agencies- they tend not to be structured to be able to offer real-time advice to their clients. They are also less likely to have the storytelling skills that PR agencies have. Revealingly, although some agencies and management consultants have set up PR arms they remained in the minority. It may be that we will see a growing trend of management consultants and ad agencies increasingly doing PR. In any market there will be new entrants so personally I don't see this as a huge problem. But some people I've spoken to suggest the reason why management consultants and advertising agencies have not, in the main, entered the PR sector, is because they are happy to leave the implementation of their strategy to PR agencies. Whether this is a problem is arguable. On the one hand it is surely great that PR is doing all of this fantastic implementation. And it may well be that this gives PR agencies a foothold to do more creative and more strategic work in the future. In addition, of course, we are talking about some significant fees here. This is not yet commoditised work. Indeed, compared to media relations campaigns this is high margin work for PR agencies. Where this trend will lead is difficult to tell but at least we know what all these geeks in PR are doing.



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