Recently I spoke with the Council of Public Relations (PR) Firms about how well PR firms are positioned to adapt to market instability and change.
As their blog points out, while pervasive instability is certainly uncomfortable to experience, in some ways it puts public relations firms at an advantage. Public relations professionals have long understood the many parts of the marketing mix, working across multiple departments in client organizations. Likewise, public relations firms have used their nimbleness to innovate and stay ahead, oftentimes producing results more efficiently than the competition.
PR firms in general are quite adept at leveraging change, especially those who have shifted their models and strategies in recognition of the importance of digital/online/social and mobile communications. We are increasingly seeing the role of communications and PR pros within companies and organizations taking on a broader remit than ever before because communications are happening in real-time online where multiple stakeholders are seeing it all at once.
Organizations and companies can no longer communicate in silos and increasingly have to speak with one unified voice — something the PR profession is particularly well-trained and suited to help them do well.
Inherently, PR professionals have always had to be adaptable “jacks of all trades,” adept at multiple elements of the marketing mix and working across organizations on a variety of communications challenges. And they have had to do so under tight budgets producing ROI more cost effectively than other types of professionals and consultancies.
They also have spent a lot of time in the line of fire dealing with time-sensitive crises, having to respond in real time to stakeholders, media and customers. Responsiveness and transparency with relative speed and immediacy have always been qualities the best PR professionals possess and never have those been more important than in the new social/digital media age.
PR firms need to keep pace with the fast changing economic and media environment by hiring a variety of talents, grounding strategy and recommendations in analytics and research, measuring results and adjusting those strategies.
These are ongoing drivers in working with clients to build their business as proactive partners, not reactive vendors. By staying nimble and adaptable, firms can stay ahead of what promises to be a perpetually changing media and economic/business landscape for years to come.
The formula we have followed to ensure success amidst great change is pretty basic and simple: hire the best people, work with the best clients and do great work. We believe it has been possible for us to invest in great people, new technology and our clients because we are independent.
At WCG Companies, we foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem that attracts people who want to create, build and be part of the positive future of communications. Our business is up another 30% this year and has grown to more than 250 people in 7 offices in about 10 years. As long as we stay true to these basic tenets and don’t take our success or much else for granted or ourselves too seriously, we believe we can sustain this over the next 10 years or more.
The biggest challenges for many professional services firms, particularly for PR agencies, are size, structure and their own success — or at least how they and investors have defined success in the past. They have done really well, but may now be finding it hard to shift their models because it requires a lot of investment, causes a lot of disruption and pain and often creates some chaos that may not be worth it in their or their investors’ eyes. This is particularly the case when they have been growing predictably and steadily and need to please Wall Street every quarter by delivering double digit margins.
Since the model has worked for many firms over time, even in difficult economic climates, it’s hard to make a case to change. But firms that invest in the best people and thought leaders as well as technology so they can truly innovate in partnership with their clients will do well in what is clearly a new economy like we have never seen before.
I believe that PR firms have done this much more than any other type of firm in the marketing and corporate mix providing strategy and execution and increasingly winning integrated business from their colleagues in related fields. This profession has always been an inherently hungrier, more nimble one with much more to prove. My view is that it has never been a better time for the industry at least those in it who are willing and able to adapt.
The key is to keep adapting the business and expand and diversify what you can do for clients. We strive to be trusted, invaluable business partners to our clients building relationships and business together over a very long time. We will continue to invest in new ventures, people and technology and most of all continue to do what we say we are going to do — as we always have — to continue to “go ahead.”