PR trends and Edelman’s recent results

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David Brain has written a good PR trends piece over at his blog on Edelman’s recent results. In particular, David focuses on the PR industry’s reaction to those results (some find it amusing to see the class swot get a B-grade). There is a temporary amnesia of other agency group problems. Go and have a read of David’s piece here.


PR Week ran a piece asking if Edelman’s problems were down to the agency focus on creative talent? This quote from Fleishman Hillard’s Jim Donaldson digs into some of the perceived challenges:

“We have a slightly different approach based in part on the fact I’m not aware of a huge amount of success coming from bringing traditional ad creatives into PR agencies,” Donaldson (below, with deputy CEO Ali Gee) tells PRWeek. “That doesn’t mean this particular hire [Judy John] won’t work; maybe they’ll crack the formula. But it’s not necessarily the way we’re looking to pursue it.”

“Partly it’s a financial thing. They can be enormously expensive. But also we haven’t seen it work elsewhere, so we look for a different sort of person that approaches things from a slightly different way.”

Fleishman’s approach is to drive creativity throughout all parts of the agency from the bottom up, rather than bringing in crack teams of creatives.

PR Week – Edelman’s ‘earned creative’ is noble, but does it work?

Now you’re all caught up here’s my thoughts on David’s piece:

  • Richard’s approach isn’t right for every PR business; but that that doesn’t dispute the validity of his approach at Edelman. I still speak with corporate agencies who are still trying to ‘work out digital’. And these are successful businesses; who have had good growth and peer respect. We have PR agencies at all stages on the adoption curve . Secondly, if you are in a large marketing combine, there is a strong incentive to either integrate a la Ogilvy or hand it across the silos

There are reasons why Fleishman Hillard et al are more conservative in there approach. PR Week covered some of the reasons. Some of the industry commentary in PR Week I viewed with a certain amount of skepticism. Here are some others to consider:

  • Having brought both digital and ‘ad agency style’ strategy to PR agencies, I know that can be hard to implement and make it stick. It’s even harder to bring it to management teams who don’t really want it. The C-suite of a global agency say one thing, but getting to regional and country level is very different. It’s a miracle we have any pioneer thinking in the PR sector at all. As an owner-manager Richard has more power than most
  • The wrong lessons were learned from the digitisation of political campaigning during the Obama elections. Some agencies thought they could replicate it as they were political wonks and roll into consumer marketing. They messed up and are now gun shy in creative and digital. I was in meetings watching agency execs talk on the benefits of democracy and political campaigning. This was in China. It was after the 2008 crisis diminished the western system’s legitimacy in the eyes of Chinese people. There are some specialists like Blue State Digital who have been much smarter

Richard is probably having a diminished reward for his change at a time when marketing functions are changing dramatically:

  • Inhoused advertising and creative teams are now doing major strategy work. In addition to the original rapid response, tactical content. Organisations like Oliver are providing the flexibility of agenciey style staffing to inhousing operations. So brands get the best of both worlds. Its part of the uberisation of services. Oliver does run the risk of disruption by the likes of Adecco or Manpower
  • Vendors such as Adobe have stripped out some of the pockets of agency value pricing out of digital build and measurement work. Once configured automated marketer friendly reports are a lot easier and automatically distributed. You can put up local / brand specific websites much faster than legacy systems in use like Vignette / Open Text. (I don’t mean to pick on Open Text, but they are an iconic player). Having gone through the painful process being the client on the build of a global web template, I can appreciate the gains made. The template is then rolled out to local country websites via the company-wide CMS. You could have teams doing this process across tens of brands at a time around the world
  • There is a changing media agenda to a more media neutral media approach is healthier for brands than digital at all costs. Anything that promotes more critical thinking around paid and earned digital is good for the industry in the longer term. It is important to remember that thought leaders like disruption commentary has an implicit agenda. McKinsey and Deloitte look to have a series of ongoing projects in a client, rather than solving a problem. The digital disruption meme has meant that businesses have taken their eye off long term brand value. Until recently, the digital disruption meme prevented critical evalution of channels. This has changed. But with CMOs staying in their roles for short tenures, brand building may not be secure in its place on the agenda