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How clients can modernise PR

Much is spoken about the need for PR to modernise. For some, this means tackling long-standing challenges, such as smashing the glass ceiling that can limit women from senior roles; getting rid of the gender pay gaps that too often exists in consultancies; and ensuring more opportunities are available to young people from a diverse range of backgrounds to enter the profession. 

Clients increasingly have an opportunity to help tackle these challenges. They should ask consultancies at pitches whether they pursue gender equality policies and what action they are taking to level pay. Equally, they should include in contracts requests to input to team reviews and require clear and transparent policies on how men and women are treated equally for promotion. And insist interns and students on placements are paid the minimum wage. 

Clients requesting more of their agencies will help to drive the modernisation of the industry. Yet, alongside these important concerns, there is a growing anxiety in the industry that the traditional skills of PR consultancies are too narrow to meet the contemporary needs of in-house teams. 

In the consultancy world the days where a strong print spread of coverage was sufficient to please a client are starting to ebb away. The evaluation techniques available today are telling us that media relations no longer has the impact it once had. Fragmented consumption, lessening trust in print media and more and more non-traditional channels for distribution and consumption mean that today's PROs have to work far harder with a wider range of channels. 

Great writing is still at a premium, as is a strong news sense and a powerful network. Yet clients today have a right to expect far more. They want to understand the insights. They want to understand the content platform. An increasing number want advice on who the key influencers are. 

Sure, media relations is still very important, but clients also want to see how social media will work and how you can convert earned coverage into owned content. Consultancies know they have to adapt, but too many possess the wrong skillset and are reluctant to change habits. Which is why clients again have a major opportunity, and obligation, to help change the agenda and drive change. 

Today, great client briefs are less likely to focus on coverage levels and (hopefully) AVEs. They will outline a business challenge. They will talk about the story that needs telling and require broad spectrum creative solutions and relevant measurement.

Any desire for media coverage will always be surrounded by a need for social content and real-time tracking of sentiment and impact. Reports for the board need to reflect visible outcomes. 

There is a real opportunity for clients to help modernise the PR, or as some would say the communications, world that we live and work in. 

Article written by Kevin Read, chairman of PR firm Bell Pottinger

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