Moving to the Center of the Marketing Mix—Strategic Shifts Brightening the Outlook for Public Relations
Today’s market is a dynamic one for marketing services. It’s a “jump ball” environment, and public relations firms, ad agencies, branding and digital shops, among others, are all seeing opportunities to compete but also to collaborate in new ways. Clients and prospects clearly seem less concerned about which discipline to work with; it’s all about who brings the best thinking and the most innovative ideas.
Overall, this trend represents good news for the public relations industry. One recent study has forecast that spending on marketing services will rise by almost five percent through 2015, with public relations and word-of-mouth marketing the fastest-growing disciplines. Public relations is becoming “a more prominent component of integrated marketing campaigns.” We are already seeing public relations taking market share from other disciplines and, in some instances, becoming the steward of the overall communications and marketing strategy.
It’s not hard to understand why. The rise of social media has prompted more companies to focus on new ways to engage with their customers. In addition, more companies are focused on reputation and how it relates to valuation and to purchasing decisions. Also, preparation for crises and navigating how issues affect marketing decisions have taken on more importance in an increasingly complex world. And, public relations firms have always been good at storytelling and engaging multiple stakeholders to communicate about substantive issues. The Web lends itself to targeted stakeholder engagement, and PR firms are seen as possessing the specialized know-how required to build communities and advocacy online.
This bright picture should not lead us to complacency. The meshing of disciplines means greater opportunity, but also more competition. The public relations industry can continue moving to the center of the marketing mix if we focus on the following priorities:
- Intellectual capital: Our business has become increasingly specialized. At Weber Shandwick, we continue to hire people with specialized backgrounds in digital, advertising, and strategic planning. But it’s also not uncommon to see our teams comprised of lawyers and public policy experts, financial communications professionals, and/or PhDs who understand and explain the science behind a new drug coming to market. Expansion of the talent pool is key, across practices and geographies.
- Integration: Clients aren’t just looking to partner across disciplines; they want partners capable of understanding the whole marketing mix and who can collaborate with others outside the traditional “PR” function. We’re also seeing multinational firms thinking more globally about their overall communications strategy, consolidating with one or a few firms or putting more emphasis on bringing their partners together to ensure that their strategic messaging is applied in local markets around the world. Firms with more flexible, collaborative cultures will win out.
- Innovation: To keep up with the pace of change in communications, we must continue to invest in technology and develop new products and services. The speed of communications and vast array of available communications platforms has created an ever-expanding media environment, and we need to adapt quickly. And we must continue to lead in social media. It’s our sweet spot given our storytelling heritage and our experience in driving conversation.
With public relations taking the spotlight as never before, it’s incumbent on us to do what it takes to deliver results in strategic and innovative ways. This isn’t about one discipline winning, but about how individual firms can best integrate and work across disciplines to successfully tell the client’s story.