In an effort to gain a better understanding of where the mark eting communications world is headed and what the new definition of integrated marketing really means, I’ve taken it upon myself to reach out and ask various leaders from the worlds of public relations, word-of-mouth, digital and advertising to share their POVs.
My inaugural conversation is with Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms. I’m proud to call Kathy a good friend (and a great source of counsel in good times and bad). Please feel free to post your views on Kathy’s observations and/or serve up some questions of your own for the Council’s head honcho.
1) Your third quarter member survey showed a definite improvement in terms of increased billings, prospects in the pipeline, etc. How bullish are you about 2011 and how do you think the PR industry as a whole will fare next year?
Kathy: Based on the Council's Q3 Quick Survey and discussions with member firms, 2010 will be better than 2009, and while it is still a bit early to know for sure, 2011 should be better than this year.
2) The Council maintains a client advisory board. I'm interested to what they're telling you. Could you share their two or three most pressing needs as well as what they see as the greatest strength of their agency partners?
Kathy: In-house corporate communications professionals have hard, multifaceted jobs. In addition to a challenging economy, their jobs are becoming more complex– and more important within their organizations. Reputation management, for example, whether brand or corporate, requires constant vigilance. Part and parcel of protecting reputation today is having a comprehensive, integrated social media program.
PR firms’ counsel on these and other areas is valued for its multi-stakeholder approach. Perhaps the greatest value agency partners can provide their clients is insight into the competitive marketplace, and to help them ‘see around corners.’ Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global marketing officer, who spoke at the Council’s Critical Issues Forum recently, referred to the importance of brand building and the crucial role PR should have in real-time marketing to communities. And of course, flawless execution by firms is always required.
3) As we all know, the lines between PR, advertising and digital are blurring in a major way. As a result, we're running into many ad and digital firms who bolt on a PR capability and try to convince our clients to consolidate everything with them. Are you hearing this from other members? If so, what are best practices for PR firms to keep the barbarians at the gate as it were?
Kathy: Yes, we do hear about firms without public relations expertise attempting to provide it. However, savvy clients realize that public relations is much more than digital or advertising (see above: reputation management). In fact, you could make the case that digital and advertising are tactics that can be implemented as part of a comprehensive public relations strategy.
PR firms are integrating digital and social into the fabric of their work, while embracing their heritage as storytellers and content creators. The Council also advocates for business best practices, such as adherence to the Council’s Statement of Principles, which support ethical and transparent business practices.
4)Thanks to reality TV and a few movies, the average American believes PR is nothing more than party planning and workplace drama. What is the Council doing to try and portray a more complete (and accurate) depiction of our industry?
Kathy: There are many industries and many professions that get a bad rap by TV stereotypes. Realistically, it’s doubtful that the average TV watcher will every truly understand public relations. (Our families don’t necessarily understand what we do but we love them anyway.)
Our goal is to demonstrate to the purchasers of public relations services that PR firms deliver great value. The way we portray the industry is through thought leadership – white papers, webinars, speaking and such, in addition to the Firm Voice blog and management-oriented programs such as the Critical Issues Forum. Two weeks ago, speaking at the Forum, the world’s top marketer, P & G’s Marc Pritchard, said “I truly love PR and I think it’s time for it to shine,” As part of that event, at our annual dinner, Vinton Cerf, one of the true inventors of the internet, spoke to a packed room of public relations professionals about the future of the Internet, communications and privacy, among other things. You won’t see these kinds of discussions on MTV or Bravo, but they are lot more relevant to the level at which we and others view the profession.
5) Just a personal observation, but it seems to me that the vast majority of young people entering our profession are white females. Does it concern you that one day soon our industry will no longer reflect the diverse society in which we live? Is the Council undertaking any initiatives to ensure more young men and people of color join our ranks?
Kathy: I whole-heartedly agree that the industry needs men and women, as well as people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, different lifestyles and diverse educational and work experiences. Public relations is a terrific career choice and we participate in several career fairs during the year to help communicate that message to students. On behalf of the Council, I sit on the board of a wonderful organization called The LAGRANT Foundation which provides scholarships to Black, Hispanic and Asian students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in public relations, marketing and advertising, and the Council has recently launched a training program, called the High Point Series, to help with retention at the mid-management level. PR firm owners like yourself can help schools attract students more reflective of society by proving targeted internships and by reviewing your hiring policies.
6) We've derived multiple benefits from our Council membership over the years. But, it still seems that only large agency CEOs are named chairs of the Council.
Kathy: Regarding the board, it is comprised of 18 members (six each from large, mid-sized and small firms); the executive committee has 2 representatives from each tier. Each board member is elected to a three year term and we very much appreciate the time and commitment to properly fill a board position (including you, ‘05-07). While there are many people from a cross section of firms who would do a good job, the chair has, to date, come from the large firm tier. The Board and the Leadership & Governance Committee believe the organization’s leadership has been thus far best served this way. Council members, and the industry, have benefited from Council chairs who have shared their significant in-house resources with Council members and the industry. In addition, the chair (and the board members) support the Council financially by participating in the opt-in events such as the Critical Issues Forum and the High Point Series.
If the Council is going to address the kinds of issues you write about in Repman, in addition to other important member concerns, it is going to take the commitment and support of many– the Chair, the Board, committee volunteers, and all Council members to help us succeed.
7) Last, but not least, what business issues keep the president of the Council of PR Firms up at night?
Kathy: Two things: first, with input from our members, continuing to expand our portfolio of products and services to meet the growing and changing needs of our membership; for example, we created the RFP Builder and Find-a-Firm to help improve the agency search process, and agency management training programs to help improve the business and management skills of PR firm employees.
Second, trying to convince non-members that they need to join; the Council is a great place to share ideas, meet new people and help make the industry stronger.
this is a test
The PR industry has a very bright future. Firms, specifically, are doing very savvy, strategic work for client organizations. What else? Be creative and play well with others.
Really interesting read. I was reminded again this weekend how important it is that first and foremost, we work on the reputation of our industry. It is misunderstood by many and as you alluded to above, television shows certainly aren’t helping. Kathy, what do you see for the future of the industry?
Thanks Ari. I really appreciate the comment.
Enjoyed reading this as a current in-house comms person and former agency guy.
Agree with the point about PR likely remaining a misunderstood profession – particularly among family members – though there has been an increase in national media press coverage that touches on PR and communications issues. And not always in a negative way.
I also applaud your efforts with the High Point Series. Mid-level managers are so important to account and agency success; having a solid set of management skills will not only help their future development, but will strengthen the agency as well.
Thanks for the post, RepMan and Kathy. Kathy, your response to question 3, particularly our “heritage as storytellers and content creators” is an important thread in our fabric as PR professionals, which is often overlooked or taken for granted. Thank you for bringing it to light – hopefully PR colleagues around the world remember our role in reputation management as it relates to corporate/brand health and overall strategy.
Ann, thanks for your question. The Council has partnership-oriented materials such as “Working with a public relations firm,” that you might might helpful. You can see our publications available for download at http://www.prfirms.org.
Wow, what an insightful post; thanks RepMan and Kathy. Kathy, on the agency side, team members often voice frustration on their clients’ behavior — anything from poorly edited releases to forcing us to promote things that have no chance of media coverage. Does the Council offer any kind of a ‘walk in my shoes’ for agency people?