Clients have never been more confused and we have never been less transparent, less nimble and more in danger of extinction than we are right now.
It’s ironic, because this moment really should be ours for the taking – as we watch brands cut budgets and media spend in anticipation of and reaction to the tumultuous global landscape that afflicts us all, the last thing to go should be reputation management and PR. But what even is PR anymore, and can we ever get past the ghosts of old that follow us around with ’90s abandon waving a Rolodex and trying to seem relevant?
It was a recent set of conversations with some seriously heavy-hitting CMOs that made me think about this problem a little more deeply. Time and again I was hearing the same thing: we don’t know where to bucket PR anymore and we don’t trust the value it delivers.
An interesting word springs to mind immediately: metrics – but I’ll come back to that one.
The buckets that brands and intermediaries seem to divide things into now, particularly briefs, are roughly: creative, digital and experience. A lot of you will be thinking, we do all three (as would I), but it turns out that isn’t the point; in fact, it’s part of the problem. If you aren’t a digital agency, an ad agency or an experiential agency, where do they put you?
Two major issues have created this identity crisis: metrics and measurement, and reputation and value/delivery. The first is a hard one, but when looked at critically those three buckets all have very clear lines of measurement, whereas we often sit in this amorphous grey area. It is the grey area that is running us out of town. Agencies are still willing to itemise cutting volume or ad value, or media tier, but none of this is tangible. We should all be thinking NPS, brand-tracking, commercial return/direct sales and much more.
Then there’s our reputation, in many ways a much bigger challenge. Who among us hasn’t met a prospective client that has been badly burned by a PR agency promising the world and delivering nothing? I would say it’s the rule, not the exception.
Our image is damaged; the sins of our fathers – when the world was vastly different and lunch took four hours – are a mantle we seem unable to escape, regardless of the language we use to describe ourselves.
PR needs a serious rebrand and we deserve one. We do good and important work for brands and access audiences in ways no other discipline can, but, much like our esteemed leaders, if we don’t deal with our reputation head-on and problem-solve as we do it, we are asking someone else to take our lunch – and they are.
Samantha Losey is managing director at Unity