Should PR agencies no longer be called PR agencies?

PR is not a commodity – the expected outcomes from PR are far too important.

If PR firms are expected to guide client organisations on anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact goodwill and reputation, are they less consultants? Are they any less consultants than those who advise organisations on business restructuring, taxation, etc.? If not really, why the hesitation is embracing the term ‘Consultant’?

What is striking is the position consultants hold as trusted advisors. While consultants require some implicit working practices, including the ability to operate at senior levels, speaking the language of the ‘C’ suite, and to offer expert independent counsel, it is not uncommon for a typical agency to have senior level cross-discipline client contacts. It is this access that enables the PR firm to build a broad view of the client’s business and its strategic challenges to counsel them appropriately. 

So the question is, do PR agencies need to act more like consultancies?

I think adoption of the nomenclature will help PR firms realize that they are being hired to guide the public profile of their client organizations. Practitioners at PR firms will step up and consult with their clients. And not be guided by clients and a team supervisor, without questioning or rationalizing the strategy and tactics. And therefore it is important that PR practitioners research and evaluate the best communication programmes to influence stakeholders of an organization’s aims.

There are plenty of smart business minds at PR firms. These people need to take a front seat in terms of driving focus on the more strategically important business issues. PR agencies have never had a bigger opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition via high-value, strategic services and counsel. This is the crown jewel of any PR business. It has a halo effect and even pays more!

Every service industry has its moments of truth and in our industry too, we have a winning moment when our clients take us into full confidence and seek our advise before making a critical business decision.  That is the time when we complete our chrysalis and transform from an agency to a consultant.

The business proposition of playing consultant is indeed compelling. With the change in classification comes consultancy-level expectations, so investing in, or acquiring these skills to match client requirements makes good business sense, especially if you are then able to marry these with excellence in implementation. If we have to grow, we need to be able to seize control and be in the driving seat with imbibing the brand ethos of our clients, map potential risks, undertake deep-dive planning, shift attention from media coverage to brand building and measure outcomes over outputs!

We have the right skills as a profession to navigate the complexities and provide sound, compliant advice to clients.  A defining and smart strategy for our industry is the need to position it better.  The onus is on us to up our game. It’s time to move up the value chain in this business of reputation!

Archana Jain is managing director, PR Pundit

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.