Do PR agencies have a future?

This fall, we participated for the first time in the global annual PR summit organized by the ICCO (International Communications Consultancy Organization). The main topic was the future of agencies that deal with communications: “Talent, Inspiration and Innovation – Creating the Consultancy of the Future.” Inspired by high-quality content on exposure as well as further analyzed topics, I would like to share with you the 5 most important conclusions.
Agencies are faced with many challenges, but competent staff and experience are not one of these. Therefore, the right question is not whether, but rather what kind of future awaits us.

     1. A fresh review on people

An agency is made up of its people. Without people, the business wouldn’t exist. As our daily duties and services are continuously changing, so does our demand for necessary capabilities and skills from our employees. Sometimes, it is essential to reset known facts, use technology and available data, and be brave in choosing new team members with various knowledge, skills and experience.
On the other side, keeping people within agencies in the communications world is a major challenge.
That is why it is important to foster a working environment which enables balancing private and business life, to invest in our colleagues, and to motivate them in the direction of innovation.  There is also one more idea on this note – to simply treat our employees in the same way as our clients, and to think in a team-oriented way. In the end, one should remember that people often leave their bosses, not their agencies.

     2. Using research and measurement

We are surrounded by an incredible level of information, but I am not sure if we are using it to its full potential. I believe that the level of using data provided by online tools is much higher abroad than in our region.
The PR industry is becoming more and more “data driven” and this is good news – as such data helps us in measuring results and highlighting the importance of incorporating communication functions in every form of business.
Results of research help us to generate appropriate content to reach appropriate groups, to look at matrixes and rules, to form and tell stories via effective tools and to establish relevant dialogues.
The Chapter 4 network has been operating under an evidence-based approach for a long time already.  Models and tools are changing daily, and their level of importance continuously grows.
Two campaigns which perfectly illustrate the range of creativity in using data are the House of Clicks and Mirrors of Racism.

     3. Leaders who learn

Nowadays, managers are adaptive leaders whose task is to find new solutions for new problems in real time. In order to be successful, lead changes, make the right decisions and motivate others to develop, they should be open-minded, flexible and positive. They must find time to invest in themselves, time to think and keep their passions and visions. They have a responsibility not only towards themselves, but also their colleagues and clients. They must orient themselves on future trends and find a way to position their teams in it.

     4. Women paradox in PR

The organization Global Women in PR has published a recent study which confirms that there is still a huge income gap between women and men in our profession. Furthermore, only 16 percent of management positions are occupied by women. Recommendations to overcome these challenges include: an increase of dialogues on the subject, flexible working hours (in response to family responsibilities), and an improvement of skills that will instil more confidence, support and networking.
Although not related solely to our industry, I highly recommend spreading the reminder on this important theme through the Equal Future campaign.

     5. Sharp ideas

Great ideas are often accompanied by a great risk. “Sharp” are great ideas that enable important dialogues and activities, and are manifested through a huge number of communication channels. At the core of these ideas is relevant data – (again) providing research from various fields of brands and products. PR agencies are considered to be in the best position to develop and realize great ideas because their teams are diversified and active through a range of channels.
They represent the ultimate form of content marketing when they manage to stir strong emotions and communicate a message in a way that inspires people to share it, very often on topics of corporate importance (with a “purpose”). I hope you will enjoy these examples.

Why I found this summit special?

The first positive impression was on the list of speakers. Most were representatives from the highest leadership level across the world´s largest agencies, respected business consultants with projects spread across at least 5 continents, analysts, innovators. The average age of the audience was 55 years and everyone was there due to their desire to progress forward – ready to welcome the future, predict trends and be a carrier of these developments. They all illustrate a passion for the job and embody the known saying by Steve jobs “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.
Each presentation was well planned with clear messages and valuable data. In no case study, lecture or panel did I feel an unwillingness or self-promotion from the side of the speaker. Everyone arrived with the same aim – to help one another, exchange experience and to raise our profession to a higher level.

The challenges we have discussed are also relevant for our market. Budgets are higher, but that is nothing new. The battle over content for digital channels in Europe has been won in favour of the PR agencies.  It is important to note that budgets from our colleagues abroad represent a big focus on research and data analysis, which is a trend that we except to arrive here soon. Changes are constant, the future is bright and our colleagues are optimistic. We have a lot of things to do, which is good news. Next year the summit will be held in Helsinki.  Our Chapter 4 team will be attending, and hopes to see you there.