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Are traditional PR agencies losing the biggest piece of the social pie?

Is it just me, or are there still a great number of PR agencies that continue to prioritise traditional media campaigns and print coverage over that of online? The role of the traditional PR media campaign has become less relevant as more and more news is fed entirely online. Whilst I acknowledge that there are some PR agencies adapting to the digital and social age, are there still more in danger of being left behind?

These days just about every company or brand is hurtling itself onto the social stratosphere with Twitter and Facebook profiles, blogs, LinkedIn pages and more to ensure they are speaking directly with their customers. This is fantastic, and just one example of the changing media landscape, but what does that mean for PR agencies?

The most innovative and sometimes crucial conversations about brands are happening online. Sure, when Twitter and Facebook were new and scary, clients most certainly relied on PR agencies to guide and teach them how to manage their presence online, but as the Gen Y takeover continues, the management of these forums is largely being handed off to far more experienced digital aficionados, who are now internal resources.

Furthermore, it seems to me that whilst PR budgets are still valued by clients, the vast majority of that budget does seem to be moving towards search and paid advertising (online mediums) and away from media buying (traditional). The majority of standalone PR agencies (without media buying in their group) are philosophically devoted to earning media, drastically limiting their involvement in some of the biggest budgets going today – search marketing. Search marketing is the one element that fits so naturally with PR agency contribution and it is not being integrated into PR agency offerings fast enough. I see large traditional agencies being left behind. Will agencies still be able to demand large retainers from clients when they only offer 15% of the client’s resource needs?

All these changes do put PR into creativity mode as they try to define their offering in a hyper-connected world where some form of intimacy between customers and company is beginning to scale. Think about the role of social media in PR; business models are falling apart because anyone can now publish news faster and further.

Converseon, an innovative social media agency puts it excellently

Social media used to be a new and exciting element of the PR media mix. Now social media is leading that mix, with PR moving into a support function of it. Social media requires a mash-up of capabilities; PR, marketing, media, advertising, narrative, linguistics, cultural anthropology, technology, change management, data management, analytics and more.

The value of PR is integration. PR firms have traditionally had an edge on their creative agency counterparts due to their ability to provide communications council across all mediums. That is slowly changing as clients are largely diversifying their agency relationships and sending all online requirements to digital specialists.

By and large, the PR industry has failed to innovate rapidly enough to match their digital counterparts, and as a result agencies have let interactive budgets and opportunities slip. I do believe, however, that if PR agencies expand their services into that of hybrid agencies, they will come to take back the control of the communications mix, online or otherwise.

Are traditional agencies resistant to change? Other than a few early adopters, have you noticed a change in your PR agency’s offering?

SIDE NOTE: For more keep an eye out for the 2012 PR Society of America’s survey results released on 27 Feb, on the “new definition of PR”.

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