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Does PR still have a digital problem?

Welcome to the PRmoment Podcast.

On the show today, I’m chatting with Jim Hawker. Jim has returned to PR. We lost him to performance marketing for ten years, but he’s now back amongst old friends. But it seems he’s still criticising us!

Over the past three months, Jim has been on a bit of a tour de force around the PR sector, assessing its digital credentials in the context of his ten years working mainly in performance marketing.

Today, he will give us a critical report on the state of digital in PR firms.

Jim is the co-founder of Threepipe Reply, which he started in 2004.

Threepipe was an interesting case study for PR because it transformed itself from a traditional PR agency to a fully integrated brand and performance agency with 90 experts in PR, data and analytics, paid media, SEO, creative, and social channels.

This was achieved by merging the original Threepipe, a PR and organic social agency, with a paid media agency before acquiring a creative agency and then an SEO agency. Specialist teams were built across data science, marketplaces and retail media channels.

In 2019, Threepipe was acquired by Reply, a global technology consulting firm. Jim left the business in April 2024.

Before we start, a plug for our new subscription training service for senior folks within agencies: PRmoment Leaders. The line-up of speakers for the first semester is now complete and even if I say it myself - it’s almost perfect!

Also, do take a look at our latest PR Masterclass: PR and AI. We've filtered out the snake oil salesman, the bluffers and the AI dead ends to create PR Masterclass: PR & AI.

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Finally, thanks so much to the PRmoment Podcast sponsors the PRCA.

Here is a summary of what Jim and I discussed:

5 mins Does PR still have a digital problem?

9 mins What does the digital offer for most PR firms look like now?

“PR agencies' digital offer is still quite shallow”

“One of the things I always found odd was that people gauged your success by the number of people you employ, which I always thought was crazy. The aim wasn't to have a bigger Christmas party every year. The aim was to build profit and margin protection.”

12 mins Should PR firms be building their own tech?

17 mins How digitally curious are most PR people?

“The only way we were able to do it (bring in a greater range of digital skills into the agency) was through an acquisition strategy… it was a safer strategy.”

20 mins “One of the benefits of having a lot of paid media running through our agency was that we ended up having really close partnerships with the technology platforms…the only way to get that is to spend money through them… Which meant we had a lot more access to insight.

“The net result of that is that your platform understanding becomes much deeper.”

23 mins Jim talks about how PR firms need to link attribution modelling and consumer behaviour to PR activity.

“I think the budget is going to end up going up the funnel rather than further down it.”

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