In my last post, I posed the hypothesis that the communications agency/client relationship is broken due to a lack of respect on the client side and outdated organisational models on the agency side. Having worked with Jim and Threepipe a lot over the last year, I know he has a view that working with client-side marketing people rather than PR people is far more beneficial as PR people tend to have tunnel vision with a less advanced digital knowledge. So I asked him to explain. I welcome your own opinions in the comments.
It’s all well and good PR agencies trying to have a digitally led strategy but ultimately it will often come down to the client contact in pushing through that suggested strategy. This has historically been one of the biggest challenges or barriers to the creation of digitally led and integrated agency work.
A high proportion of PR people working on the client side are fulfilling roles and handling budgets that do not allow PR agencies to show what they can really do. Client side digital budgets do not reside with the PR department and often sit within the marketing or increasingly with the SEO teams. Accessing these budgets is extremely difficult and is one of the reasons that agencies must work hard to widen their sphere of influence on the client side.
If agencies continue to work within the narrowing silo of traditional PR then all the evidence is pointing towards an ever decreasing source of budget. I am yet to see many clients investing more in traditional PR campaigns compared to wider digital work.
PR is pigeon-holed as being concerned with managing media relations and reputation. Regardless of the amount of research reports showing the value of reputation, I only see clients spend money on reputation when they are in crisis.
I met with an in house PR manager recently whose PR budget was £10,000 a month – a decent retainer you may think? Her SEO counterpart was managing a budget of £30,000 per month and the SEO agency was placing content into national tier one media.
So why is this happening? Why isn’t that PR person being given responsibility for SEO?
PR people (if you read last year’s PRCA Digital Report) do of course manage SEO programmes. The reality is that the knowledge is not there. That knowledge requires technical, data and commercial skills that most PR people do not possess.
This of course is not always the case but is more common than not. Marketing Directors on the other hand have a more holistic view of the business, manage more channels and have bigger budgets that they are able to allocate across channels. It is a much better starting place for a conversation. Especially for those agencies whose skillsets allow them to create more modern PR campaigns which can touch access more consumer touch points and demonstrate commercial success rather than vanity metrics.
Agencies can’t rely on in-house teams to improve their digital knowledge and sphere of influence, so the alternative is to widen capabilities and build out an offer that can appeal to more people within the client organisation.