2009 in PR

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Stephen Waddington wrote up his predictions for 2009 in PR. He felt that digital campaigns, government spending and marketing directors looking for a cost effective alternative to ther marketing techniques would be the three most likely bright spots in a challenging economic climate.

My view of 2009 in PR is sober by contrast. I think that digital is substitutive rather than additive: that is clients will be transferring spend online, and this will follow the direction that the media have been going. I don’t necessarily think that new money will enter the arena, but I think new players will.

Search has got  a lot harder as a business: Yahoo! and Google have cut commission to agencies, key words have become more expensive, and a lot of the low hanging fruit from a search engine optimisation (SEO) point-of-view has been picked leaving off-network measures ie: online PR and link exchange. I think that digital agencies will fight a lot harder to get the 50 per cent of online PR programmes that they don’t already manage. Some of them have a lot of smarts, an attractive engagement model and really understand measurement – three points of the PR profession’s Achille’s heel.

On the plus side, I think that PR agencies are in a lot better position to fight their corner by providing tightly integrated offline and online programmes (or what James Warren would call inline.) I believe that both quantative research and qualitative audience insight to better understand their emotional connection with a brand (yes even B2B brands, since the elicit reactions like trust or apathy) are areas that PR agencies can gain an advantage over digital agencies. The days of basing a campaign on a journalist audit and or, desk research should be long gone.

Stephen also talks about mobile being on the cusp of being the next frontier after social media for PRs, and this is probably true for pioneer clients that are willing to take risks. I think that there are two things driving this, firstly mobile devices are becoming much much more capable, not only in computing power, but in screen size, the iPhone provides people with a good facsimile of  a desktop browsing experience but optimised for the form factor. Even though the iPhone is a small percentage of overall phone sales its influence on marketers has been phenomenal.

The second item is the QRcode. A way for a mobile phone to take down an email, web address or phone number from printed media or a computer screen. Pepsi are already championing them using Kelly Brook to educate the great unwashed and both Ford  (for the Ka) and BMW (for the Mini in Germany) have been using these codes to allow customers to interact with digital artifacts (the web-of-no-web phenonena – where digital content is all around us from the Wii to 48-sheet hoardings). Whilst I think that mobile PR could be big, I think that there is a bigger role for digital agencies to create the digital artifacts that PRs can wrap a narrative around.

This all means that the agency that has the client’s trust and the smartest ideas can be in the driving seat for some very interesting campaigns. A smart, well-connected and well-regarded PR agency has just as much chance being in the driving seat as a digital hot-shop and conversely 2009 in PR may be activated by an agency that does earned media alongside paid media.

Whilst it won’t happen in 2009, we are gradually moving to a marketing singularity where boundaries between disciplines are increasingly blurred and more likely to be defined by in-house relationships, trust, budgets and responsibilities rather than agency capabilities.