It's been a crazy month or so for PR and marketing conferences. At the end of May we had the In2 Summit in London and the GlobalCom PR annual meeting in Mallorca, two weeks ago the Indie Summit in London and last week, Cannes Lions.
I get quite a bit of (good-natured?!) ribbing from friends, colleagues and competitors for the amount of PR and marketing conferences I attend. For me, it's a wonderful opportunity to sidestep the distractions of day-to-day PR and running an agency and think about the bigger picture.
The net result? Over the past two years we've built and launched Aperture (influenced by PRCA’s PR & Communications Council and Holmes Report Global PR Summit events), created a series of products (influenced by the In2 and GlobalCom events) and now we're building an automation platform for the agency (influenced by SXSW and PR Moment events).
Now I've justified my travel to my business partner and Board, what's the point in this post? It's to say that – despite rumours to the contrary - the PR industry seems in rude health. And that's not (just) the wine talking.
At the Indie Summit the team at Kingston Smith revealed that, over the last 26 years, PR agencies have claimed the second highest average margins of marketing services companies. What's more, while media buying agencies enjoy higher margins now, they seem to be declining at quite a rate, while PR is steadying.
Is 12.2% ‘good’? It’s not spectacular, but there are major efforts going on within trade associations and a huge interest in becoming better businesses from the PR agency leaders I know. And it is important that PR agencies make better returns, because that enables us to invest in talent and new capabilities. In turn, this improves the quality of work we do and evolves the type of services we can offer.
OK, OK, the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix went to a campaign run by an ad agency. But there is some great work being done by PR agencies. Clever, creative, valuable work - the kind of projects I heard about at In2 and GlobalCom were beautifully designed and executed integrated campaigns that delivered real value.
The word 'storytelling' was one of the most overused in Cannes. The ad agencies and creatives are clustering around the idea like it's a shiny new thing. PR has always been about the story. We are brilliant storytellers and have a wonderful opportunity to place ourselves at the heart of, and lead, integrated campaigns.
I've written and spoken extensively about the frustrating lack of confidence in the PR industry. Whether it's measurement, or being taken seriously by senior executives, or diversity, or mental health we find things to fixate and slam ourselves on. We repeat the issues in our trade media, at our conferences, our networking events again, again and again. These are important issues, but we exhibit such self-loathing we suck the optimism out of our industry. You simply don't find that in other industries - especially in advertising.
Or at least you didn't. At both SXSW and Cannes it was notable that the confidence levels in the advertising industry are starting to drop. Ad agencies are struggling to get to grips with a multi-channel world, they're having to work with 'influencers' that want more than cash, they're having to tell stories and help define authentic organisational purposes. This isn't traditional ad agency fare - it's been the domain of PR. Their fees are being cut and there are more ways than ever for marketers to spend their budget. Measurement approaches are being called into question and the issues of ad fraud and brand safety are hot topics.
PR's time is now
I don't wish the ad industry any ill will. But I do wish the PR industry would gain some of the swagger our advertising brethren are shredding.
PR agencies are making OK money and are determined to get better. PR professionals are doing some great work and are the rightful lynchpin of integrated campaigns. The PR industry isn’t perfect and is working through some critical issues, but it has every reason to be confident about the future.
The outlook for PR is great. I don't think there's ever been a better time to be in PR – in-house or agency. I desperately want our industry to embrace a more optimistic and upbeat narrative. With more confidence there’s nothing this industry can't do.