Sophie Chen
Sep 24, 2013

PR agencies adjust identities for digital times

ASIA PACIFIC - As brands increasingly seek integrated approaches to campaigns and marketing strategies, PR agencies have been revamping their organisations in order to meet clients’ changing needs, as well as attract more varied talent.

PR agencies adjust identities for digital times

Over the past two years, several traditional PR agencies across the Asia-Pacific region have rebranded and redefined their overall offering, including most recently GHC Asia and FleishmanHillard.

“This is in response to how the communications industry is organically changing its scope to look further beyond the traditional means of PR,” said Emma Dale, co-founder and managing director at Prospect Resourcing (Asia) Ltd. “There is an increasing need more than ever to look at campaigns holistically and offer a 360 integrated solution.”

GHC Asia (formerly Grebsted Hicks Communications), an independent communications agency specialising in the luxury lifestyle, travel, tourism and property sectors, has recently relaunched its brand and digital platform with a look that echoes its the luxurious nature of its business.

In May, FleishmanHillard unveiled a newly refreshed corporate brand with a new tagline ‘The Power of True’, and associated digital media property. The agency explained that the move reflects the evolution of the traditional public relations firm into a fully integrated communications company that is channel agnostic, and able to work across paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) media channels.

“FleishmanHillard’s new branding reflects the changing communications environment and the increasing demands from clients for integrated solutions,” said Rachel Catanach, senior partner and managing director at FleishmanHillard Hong Kong.

“The PR industry is undergoing huge change driven by increasing demand by clients for campaigns that transcend channels through magnetic content and world-changing ideas,” she said. “This provides tremendous opportunity for the industry to redefine public relations and demonstrate value in new ways.”

To identify the changing market and clients’ needs, PR agencies need to reposition themselves and refresh their offering.

Weber Shandwick repositioned itself last year, turning the focus from advocacy to engagement in line with the trends shaping its business.

Bite merged with digital marketing agency Bourne to offer a broader range of services, including strategy, insight, public relations, marketing communications, creative, content and digital.

“The challenge for PR agencies is keeping up with the creative and digital agencies in terms of creativity, content creation and having the right talent in place,” said Dale. “Clients also need to be educated. PR agencies, which are changing and adapting, can offer far more services than just traditional PR.”

With the soaring popularity of social media and increasing penetration of the internet, the public is looking for more transparency and multi-channel communication.

However, the traditional PR world is formal and established. “PR firms are challenged to keep a balance between holding a trusted name and introducing new services,” said Napoleon Biggs, chief strategy officer at Gravitas Group.

Also, PR firms need to get alignment between brand and reputation, as today’s campaigns are required to not only change perceptions but also influence behaviour and improve the bottom line. 

“In a world where companies and management are under increasing scrutiny, understanding and addressing the expectations and experiences of those we are trying to have a relationship with is fundamental,” Catanach said. “Companies can no longer succeed if they fail to align their behaviours and their messages with the expectations of their stakeholders. 

As the last table to incorporate digital service, PR firms traditionally deliver content by phone calls, events, interviews and press release, but online storytelling is in a different language.

Biggs said a provocative social-media campaign requires a lot of elements to let people engage with the idea, such as catchy videos, meaningful infographics, a two-way conversation, as well as hot topics and trends.

There is no secret that PR firms are looking for more integrated talent, but to attract this calibre of candidate, Biggs pointed out that PR firms need a clear career path for these people, as they tend to be very driven and like to accelerate up the corporate ladder rapidly.

“Also, rewards and incentives that reflect what they bring to the table rather than just the traditional ‘client billings’,” he said. “This is especially true in an era of rapid transition where the revenues generated by digital cannot always be separately accounted for.”

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