The PR Twilight Zone

I had lunch with the head of a large agency’s technology practice and after we got over all the usual social chit-chat and gossip we got on to talking about the business. Generally PR people are glass half-full people, or as I prefer to say delusional. We got into talking about business and the conversation veered on to new business.I expressed my surprise at the lack of PRs at events like Second Chance Tuesday trying to suck up to potential clients and secure new business, when she dropped this bombshell “I am not doing any more new business because I can’t get any more account managers, any of the decent ones you speak to want to go in-house.”

Without an economic boom we could see agencies resorting to dot.com strategies of interviewing prospective clients and hiking fees. The industry is also likely to attract the attention of charlatans, marketing services and professional services organisations keen to get a slice of the pie.

Senior mommy consultants are already taking up some of the slack in the Bay Area.

PR has hit a bit of a demographic wall, there is a scarcity of account managers out there.
What’s behind the numbers?

  • Well pay hasn’t budged in ten years or so by level, neither has client budgets.
  • In addition now there is more ways in which a marketer can spend their budget, online advertising in particular provides a particularly PowerPoint-friendly way of justifying marketing spend
  • Media is continually fragmenting, affecting the returns from PR and the industry image has suffered because of political shenanigans over the past decade.
  • Those account managers that are willing move from their current organisations wanting an in-house role indicates that they have been failed by agencies and the ‘golden apple’ of career progression to account director and beyond has left them cold.

I guess for agencies its wake-up and smell the coffee time:

  • Agency culture has failed to inspire the people that have come into the industry to make a career of it.
    • From my point-of-view most of the agencies that I see are more formal and less fun work environments for junior staff than when I started out
    • Agency culture have few differentiators
    • Many agencies are not located in areas that would be attractive to young hard working people. Often you would struggle to find a sandwich at lunch time or anywhere to go after work for a quick drink with colleagues.
  • Some money is going to have to be put on the table to sweeten the deal for them, but its going to have float the boats of all employees, not just account managers
  • The shortage of middle management cannot be solved by boosting junior staff before their time
  • The problem needs to be resolved by reexamining the manner in which they carry out their business
    • Working around having fewer middle managers to hold account relationships day-to-day
    • Providing an environment and working experience that people want to stay in
    • Find a way of increasing their value to clients so that they can get the additional money required to improve agency working conditions
  • The mistakes need to be corrected and we need to plan for a drought in quality senior management over the next five-to-ten years as maternity leave kicks in with a vengenance and these account managers move on up the career ladder

From an in-house point-of-view there is an opportunity for in-house teams to recruit the cream of agency talent and look at using agencies as grunts or strategists.