A few weeks ago, Harris Diamond, formerly CEO of Weber Shandwick, was named CEO of one of the world’s largest advertising agency networks, McCann Worldgroup. I can’t think of a single event that better symbolizes public relations’ move up the strategic ladder for brands. Full disclosure, I have worked for Mr. Diamond for the past 11 years at Weber Shandwick, so one could argue I bring a bias to this issue. But I think it’s hard to argue the significance of a PR guy being tapped to run ad agencies – especially in an era where we’re seeing dramatic change across the entire marketing communications landscape.
Ironically, our office was recently asked to create a 30-second TV commercial for our sponsorship of local program, Four Peaks, which has forced us to consider a new way to describe what we do – as a company and as a public relations discipline. Much has been written about this change, and I’m not sure how much can be added to the debate that hasn’t already been said. What I can do is bring to the conversation a perspective that at times is overlooked as marketing communications disciplines jockey for position relative to one another: the client’s perspective.
Though it’s always important to be ahead of clients, it’s also good to root our activities in reality. To get a sense of how clients are looking at global communications change today, my firm recently spoke at length to 10 senior executives from top brands, all of whom have responsibility for global communications at their organizations. There was overwhelming consensus on what public relations is becoming, and how communicators need to evolve their strategies and structures to adapt.
Changing the “what” …
… leads to a new “how.”
According to our chief communicators, PR teams of the future are likely to be made up of an array of experts who can be deployed when their particular expertise is needed. The implication for PR agencies will be moving from generalist firms to firms made up of a wide range of specialists. The structure starts to resemble that of a traditional ad agency, but our clients are clear they don’t think all aspects of that structure should be replicated. Agility is key.
Though the world of public relations continues to change daily, after hearing these senior clients assess the “what” and the “how,” I think the path forward is becoming just a bit clearer for our discipline. And I’m sure that our industry will see several more transitions similar to the move made by Mr. Diamond.