Stick with the glue that holds diverse industry together

As social media takes an increasingly prominent role in the marketing landscape, PR emerges as the discipline that could best leverage the opportunity.

Richard Millar, Chief executive, Hill & Knowlton UK

Real-time brand management is part of the future. This means listening, observing, conversing, connecting and engaging different communities on a scale and at a pace previously thought unimaginable.

We are no longer just a storyteller and an editor. We have the opportunity to assume creative leadership. We’re now publishers, filmmakers, app creators, rights owners and builders of live experiences. There will be a focus on brilliant ideas and imagination for platforms and channels.

Kevin Read, Managing director, Bell Pottinger

As an industry, we are grappling with the consequences of social media. Agencies are keen to find people who can balance traditional and new skills as the boundaries of the disciplines crumble. We will also see more channel-neutral briefs, a whole host of niche start-ups and a new type of player emerging.

Alex Bigg, Group managing director, Edelman

We’re now at the heart of the planning process. Clients no longer expect the PR consultancy to come along at the end and make their ads famous. We are involved far earlier in the process, helping to inform and shape brand strategy.

One trend to watch over the next year is how the industry responds to the “age of austerity”.

And, with the hyper-local agenda, driven by the internet and people’s desire to be more communal, it will be interesting to see how a predominantly London-based industry shapes and advises on this new dynamic.

Neil Gibson, Director, The BIG Partnership

Other marketing disciplines are looking enviously at the position and budgets available to PR companies, particularly with the decline of the traditional advertising models.

The test for PR consultants is to prove we are up to that challenge and can demonstrate insight and creative planning aligned with results that are visible and can be properly evaluated.

The fragmentation of traditional media, along with the rise of social media, certainly presents significant challenges but we are ideally placed to take more of the marketing budget to reach and positively influence audiences than ever before.

Adrian Johnson, Owner, Umpf

The debate about who owns social media has yet to be concluded and in all probability, will be shared among PR, advertising, digital and web development agencies, not to mention social media-only agencies and full-service shops.

However, a PR agency is a more natural bedfellow of social media, community engagement and conversations than an ad agency. While both are predisposed to clever idea generation and strategic planning, PR has always had a closer working relationship with the public.


Market research in numbers

  • The PR sector in the UK is worth about £8bn a year.
  • There are about 56,000 PR professionals working in the UK.
  • Overall, there are about 3,000 PR and communications consultancies/agencies in the UK.
  • The majority of PR consultancies have a turnover of about £200,000.
  • 48% of marketing and communications professionals don’t feel they have the knowledge to use social media channels effectively.
  • 23% of marketing and communications professionals believe that social media marketing is best managed by public relations professionals.

Sources/ PRCA, 2010 McCann Erickson Social Media Index

Brand in the spotlight

BP and crisis management


Why is public relations so important when things go wrong for brands?

PR specialists are best placed to manage communications when a brand has been damaged by unplanned events and negative publicity. But a good crisis management strategy should already be in place to minimise damage in the case of a crisis.

How could BP have managed its oil spillage crisis better through PR?

BP has been criticised for its lack of clear communication from the start of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Many have commented that its slow response after the explosion gave an impression that the oil company didn’t understand the significance of what had happened and did not view a clean-up operation as urgent.

When a crisis occurs within a company it is essential that its top executives are visible from the start, communicating the right messages and taking control of the situation. BP’s outgoing chief executive Tony Hayward’s efforts to communicate via YouTube and to the media in general have been widely criticised for being insincere and lacking empathy.

Hayward’s chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has also come under criticism for his absence from the site as BP staff worked to plug the oil spill. Svanberg’s lack of visibility has led commentators to suggest his priority in the past months has been to distance himself from Hayward and protect his own reputation rather than demonstrate leadership.

What should have been done?
BP’s PR gaffes suggest an alarming lack of media training and guidance. Its mistakes are a warning to all companies that executives need PR expertise throughout such a pressured and sensitive situation.

With better PR handling, BP might have been able to clearly demonstrate it was taking the oil spill disaster seriously.
If Hayward had emerged in the first hour after the accident to apologise, to acknowledge the loss of life and to announce an immediate independent safety audit across BP’s global operations, the company would have at least started off on the front foot. It would have been the expected response, and may have enabled BP to help shape the ensuing coverage. Instead, the media is still revealing new information about safety failures at the site months after the disaster.

What’s the damage?
BP has confirmed that chief executive Tony Hayward will be leaving his post, although it is likely he will retain a role within the company. Many are asking if BP will survive as a business following the oil spill disaster. IN PRACTICETop tips you need to knowl Find an agency that is capable of delivering big ideas, and be receptive to receiving them.

  • A PR agency that is non-traditional for your sector (eg a utilities company using an agency with fashion and entertainment expertise) can deliver fresh thinking.
  • If you are looking for a PR agency to do social media campaigns, check out whether they are using it themselves.
  • Social media needs to be a more human form of communications. Try using people from the company to tweet or write blogs to give these communications more authenticity.

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