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Why it’s not always PR people who buy PR anymore says Zoe Ward-Waring

15th August 2013

Given that the industry is changing, it is hardly surprising that it isn‘t just the client’s PR people who make PR choices and decide which agencies to appoint. Around the “grown-up” marketing tables, PR is getting a fair voice in the marcomms mix, so why ponder on who’s the prospective buyer?

Well, it seems there are two camps emerging – one where PR is considered as the media exposure department with the purpose of keeping the company in the news as well as, at times, out of the news. Then there is another camp where PR is viewed as a serious conduit for business influence. PR is seen to affect behavioural change, build communities, increase trust and make a commercial difference. So, within the second camp, is it any wonder PR gets the attention of the board, the commercial director, the marketing director, brand manager and the corporate comms?

During a recent client audit, we found a good proportion of our contacts and those who appoint and renew contracts, have these job titles. Those in senior client positions have seen how powerful PR can be and therefore see value in influencing PR decisions.

Another reason why non-PR people in client organisations choose PR agencies is because of the way agencies continue to merge, and blend their skills. This means the client can’t rely on sector-specific managers to “run agencies”. A typical client contact now might manage consultancies in PR, digital, advertising and experiential or perhaps one PR agency who delivers more than one or all of these. It therefore makes sense for the client to be a general marketer rather than come from a pure PR background. I’ve also known some previous clients formerly in marketing director roles, to be appointed by clients as freelance consultants to manage a roster of agencies ensuring the brand strategy, messaging and delineation of marketing responsibilities are all on track. These types of freelance consultants then move on to start that process again for another brand.

Having said all that, the PR manager is alive and kicking too. Again, perhaps this isn’t such a shocker as a number of ex-agency staff members have taken up in-house roles in recent years. They know how an agency works, they’ve had the PR training, so why should they employ an agency, especially if they have a fully staffed PR team too?

One manager told me, “I use an agency on a project basis for a number of reasons – when we’re short of man power we can inherit a team overnight. We look to the agency to take us beyond the obvious spaces for our brand too – whether it be new media spaces or brand affiliations. Give me something I can’t already do within my team.”

Another cited that it’s all about adding value: “It’s the creative ideas and fresh perspective that my agency delivers in spades. We can get too close to things and an external agency partner can see the brand in a new light and has ‘license’ to recommend that to our board.” Certainly the latter makes for exciting times in the agency world.

But whatever the title is on the client side, what really matters about the purchase of PR, is a mutual partnership and common goal where the PR team is equipped with the corporate intelligence behind the business objectives and is given trust, respect and the odd thank you. All of which goes a long way to ensure every pound is well spent, and offers an enormous return.

Zoe Ward Waring is UK MD of Publicasity.

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