July 2, 2012
Some say that change is the only constant, and we see examples of it every day in our profession — from the newest social media platforms to advancements in technology to dramatic shifts in how people spend their marketing dollars.
But are agencies changing enough? Are agency leaders taking the time to evaluate their business against the changing marketing landscape and consumer demands? Are we open to redefining our companies and taking the necessary steps to stay relevant?
After a thorough review process, PRSA recently updated the definition of public relations in an effort to more clearly express the current state of the profession, stating: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
It is certainly a broad definition, which I believe reflects the shifting demands of PR practice. Perhaps we should redefine other outdated terminology as well.
Take the word “agency” — a term that has grown to prominence in the heyday of the TV show “Mad Men,” when advertising companies acted as agents, buying services from one party (media) and reselling it for a marked-up profit to another party (their client). The term relies heavily on transactions. True, we strategize and negotiate for media and other services, but the key word here is “strategy.”
In public relations, our teams use strategic planning to make decisions about how and where audiences can best see, hear and experience our marketing messages — none of which has to do with a middleman. We also create content for our own platforms now, so our role as intermediary with media has changed significantly.
Others in marketing disciplines agree: New York-based Droga5 describes itself as an “independent advertising network,” Arkansas-based Mitchell Communications defines itself as a “strategic communications firm “and here, at i.d.e.a., we describe ourselves as a “progressive communications company.” If you change your lingo, then you can change the way people think about you.
I recently spoke with a colleague who said, “[The creative marketing process] is not like ‘Mad Men,’” referring to an agency simply telling clients what to do without developing a relationship of collaboration and trust.
To better reflect that relationship, we have also replaced the word “clients” with “brand partners” because we are part of their team, united in working to achieve our goals.
Taking a good look at your company’s service offerings might help you redefine how you describe your business, and it might help you identify the holes.
After attending the annual PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference in May, it was clear that progressive agency leaders are expanding their offerings to meet a broader definition of marketing and communications — and to be more competitive in this evolving industry. Companies whose primary offering was once traditional public relations have evolved to include social media, and are bringing on more diverse talent to meet the demand for video production, SEO, digital management and design.
With the economy still struggling, this shift can be daunting to think about.
But with more than 48,000 public relations, advertising, digital, media and social media businesses in the United Sates, it is imperative to set yourself apart and clearly communicate the value that your team brings to a brand partner. Much like how the definition of our profession has changed, practitioners must also evolve to meet demand.
It can be a matter of bringing on additional staff to fill the gaps, hiring freelancers to supplement your team on certain projects — or even starting over entirely.
My agency recently did this when we launched a new brand — our own. We took our various marketing elements, positioning, strategies and tactics into consideration, just as we would for a client.
Thinking of taking the leap and starting a new agency? Here are five key things to keep in mind when introducing a new brand:
As soon as you launch, the work really begins. Have a plan in place to maintain momentum so that you can stay relevant. After all, everything is bound to change soon enough.
Indra Gardiner is founder and chief relationships officer of i.d.e.a., in San Diego, and is on the executive board for PRSA’s Counselors Academy. Ping her on Twitter @bgindra, or visit theideabrand.com.
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