ArabAd talks to Denise Yammine, PR Group Account Director, Grey Doha about the transformational role the PR industry finds itself in today and the risks that threaten its extinction if so said changes are not acted upon.
The state of the PR industry is generating some heated debate, as many communication professional argue that ‘PR agencies’ are already dying out and will cease to exist in the next ten years. What's your say?
True, but far from rightfully so. The reason why the conversation around transformation of PR agencies has somewhat taken a back seat is because industry discussions and debates have, over the past years, been transfixed on the uphill battle of media and creative agencies over brand custodianship. In public industry perception, the role of PR agencies has been diluted and reduced to support the overall communicate strategies typically led by either the creative agencies or their media counterparts. On the ground, the reality is quite the opposite; a few years back, social media has actually transferred the 'always-on' communication and ubiquitous connection of brands with consumers to PR agencies. The debate that should be had is whether or not PR agencies have actually taken ownership of this space, and capitalised on their historical role as the agile, day-to-day custodians of what a brand stands for in the eyes of consumers – particularly at a time when brands are pivoting their purpose toward serving the greater good of the community and the world, as the many recent global campaigns have shown.
Quite contrarily to what is being voiced at industry corridors, PR agencies show potential of leading our industry’s way into the future; WPP chief Martin Sorrell has made a very strong statement on this very role, when he attributed the rise of social media, data and content in making PR agencies increasingly relevant for the future.
The way PR is measured and evaluated has also changed, with less emphasis on outputs and more focus on how ideas have affected consumer behaviour and resulted in outcomes and business objectives. How has your PR strategy changed in the past 10 years?
Over the last decade, the turning point for the PR industry has been the advent of social media, which has completely transformed reputation and crisis management for PR professionals. While both media and creative professionals advocate agility and real-time, moment marketing, these disciplines have long been embedded in the very nature of what PR agencies did. Granted, the tools at hand have changed; no-comment policies, public acknowledgement speeches and media clarifications have often had to be reduced to 140 characters. Press clips and media coverage estimations have given way to social media listening and reporting tools that generate a deluge of granular data assessing the actual reach of a brand’s messaging, the sentiment of consumers towards it and their engagement with its tone of voice. As a result, content creation and curation have become cornerstones of the PR agency’s role and scope of work, enabling it to transfer brand ownership to the public – whereas, a decade ago, PR agencies were often focused on doing the exact opposite of that and controlling a brand’s image and public perception within the confines of its own guidelines.
What are the challenges you face today?
Going forward, the challenge for PR agencies will be to actually break out of their conventional mold and modus operandi and position themselves as driving forces behind the industry’s transformation. For the most part, the PR industry has boxed itself in as a link within the communication strategy chain. If it does not capitalise on technology, data and content to transform itself, it may very well be at the peril of perishing.