This article originally appeared at marketingmag.ca.
By hiring creative directors and launching branding and design services, are PR firms reinventing themselves?
One of the hottest trends in public relations is the investment by leading PR firms in their creative capabilities. Some are partnering with creative agencies. Others have hired their own creative directors. Argyle Communications has taken a slightly different approach, launching a brand counsel and design subsidiary (see last week’s post). What’s behind this trend, and what does it say about the business of public relations today?
All evidence shows that PR is enjoying rapid growth and increased relevance. In an age in which communication power is in everyone’s hands, the core capabilities of PR professionals – earning attention rather than paying for it, and building relationships with audiences who have the power to talk back – have never been in greater demand.
So, why are these skills not enough? Why are we adding creative capabilities?
The reality is that even if the PR tide is rising, there are many more boats crowding the waterways, which means new competition from unlikely sources.
When marketing came of age as a profession, customers, citizens and stakeholders had far less power; with the deck reshuffled in the audience’s favour, the future of marketing will look much more like PR. We will see more creative campaigns focusing on enhancing consumer engagement. McDonald’s “Our food. Your questions.” campaign is a memorable example. As a result, the boundaries between previously discrete disciplines are blurring.
In this changed competitive environment, PR firms have some great strengths: they tend to be better than marketers at authentic and transparent engagement, issues management and the facilitation of two-way dialogue. They’re used to having little control over a message, and good at earning influence to ensure the message finds its target.
PR firms tend to be weaker, however, at communicating the emotional rather than the functional benefit of a brand; at using visuals powerfully and creatively to make a claim, define an issue and persuade an audience. That’s why an investment in creative capabilities can make a critical difference.
Does this mean PR firms and creative agencies will start to resemble each other? In some cases, yes. Some of our peers are evolving their firms to pursue more of a hybrid model. Looking south of the border, many independent PR firms have already made that transition.
Whatever their chosen business models, I believe the most successful firms will not blur the boundaries too much. The key is to maintain PR’s biggest point of differentiation: our business is about relationships, and a PR firm’s edge comes from employing and developing specialists who truly understand how to build and strengthen relationships for mutual benefit of clients and their audiences or stakeholders. We will just have a more creative set of tools to do so.
Daniel Tisch is CEO of Argyle Communications, one of Canada’s largest independent public relations firms, and Chairman of Argyle Brand Counsel + Design (ABC+D). He is a Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society and was the 2011-2013 Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.