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Challenges facing the PR Industry

The PR industry has seen enormous change and upheaval in recent years. Interviews with agency leaders for the FeaturesExec Media Bulletin have named the main challenges currently facing the industry, and suggested ways of overcoming them. Here’s a quick run through of the major issues at the back of every PR’s mind:

Improving social and digital skillsets
Adapting to the social and digital revolution is one of the most cited challenges, with an ever-increasing number of communications channels available to target. Jim Hawker, co-founder of Threepipe, describes the industry as still resembling “an emu with its head in the sand” with traditional PR lacking the skillsets that are needed for digital opportunities. As a solution to this, Hawker believes that integration is the key. Services such as marketing, social media and SEO cannot be undermined as the industry fights for space alongside more specialist agencies offering these services.

However, Peter Rennison, founder of PRPR, warns that for many clients with limited budgets and time that although “Twitter and LinkedIn are important…Facebook is not going to deliver ROI, particularly for B2B clients”. Gareth Thomas of Capella PR adds an interesting point in stating that the management of social media belongs in-house in order to give customers real-time support.

In dealing specifically with social media, Peter van der Sluijs, MD of Neesham PR, highlights the importance of establishing good media relations in order to retain authority and engage with the reader. This is especially so as social media “has created the illusion that companies can cut out the media as a middleman” and target their customers directly.

Heather Baker, founder of TopLine Communications, points out that no UK thought leader has emerged on the subject of integrated communications, possibly making it harder for PRs to follow a proven approach.

The changing media landscape
PRs are working with an extremely fast-moving media landscape, as mentioned by Martin Brindley of Davies Murphy Group. There is a greater demand on journalists’ time with increased responsibilities and deadlines, making it harder to be heard and to get coverage, and even to maintain trusted relationships with the media.

As a solution, Davies suggests agencies need to be ‘proactively reactive’ and to be able to adapt quickly to last-minute requests for comment. Peter Rennison mentions the importance of not losing sight of the fundamentals of good communication, that is, knowing your target audience and delivering content in the right way.

Finding a standard measurement
Being able to report all types of coverage, whether through print, online or social media, is mentioned by many PR leaders as a pressing challenge. Andrew White of Triggerfish is not the only one to point out that AVEs are dated and inconsistent. The need to prove a clear return on investment is even more important now PR and marketing budgets are tighter. As a solution, Tim Witcherley of Cognition suggests that PR has to involve complex creative tangents to ensure returns across diverging media.

Move towards project contracts
A number of PR leaders mention the increased move towards project contracts may be a problem. Gareth Thomas says that although it can drive creativity, it holds back longer term relationships where deep brand knowledge is acquired.

Lack of commercial skills
Heather Baker mentions the lack of commercial skills in the industry. The objective of achieving coverage for the clients is often placed above campaigns that would actually benefit their business strategies.

Although the PR industry faces many challenges, there are many ways in which these can be turned into opportunities. Pete Goold, MD of Punch Communications states that recent industry changes have forced PRs to do a better job, and Mark Houlding of Rostrum believes the constant demand for good quality and opportunities created by social media mean the industry is well-placed to thrive in the future. Angie Petkovic of Apt Marketing & PR concludes: ‘There is every reason to be optimistic and energetic. If anything, it is all the more exciting than pre-recession conditions; we just have to be smarter than before! The current environment presents an opportunity for our clients to streamline and force greater efficiency”.

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