Today’s Large Agencies: Demonstrating Value in a MultiChannel Universe

The way that people consume information is evolving. New and diverse communication platforms and devices mean that most of us are plugged in around the clock and, as a result, have a virtually insatiable appetite for news and information. It’s a big shift, and one with important implications for your clients and the way you service them. In both cases it creates new challenges and opportunities.

For your clients it means that much greater demands are being placed upon them in terms of how often they communicate to their target audiences and which channels they use to do so. Yet if they can do it well, they stand to not only build their brand, but also differentiate themselves from competitors.

For you the shift in how people consume information means that you’ve got to be able to demonstrate value across all of the different communication options available to your clients. That means being flexible in how you work. It also means that you need to have the right tools and resources to execute effectively in this new environment and that you need to be fast and nimble enough to keep up with demand. Your other big challenge—which incidentally may also be your biggest opportunity— is figuring out how to best demonstrate all of the new value you can now provide to your clients.

In this paper, we’ll look at how big PR agencies are evolving to meet this fundamental change in communication, and how goals and expectations as well as challenges and opportunities are changing for both you and your clients.

The Next Generation of Large PR Agencies

Like you, most of today’s large PR agencies are able to provide much greater value than ever before. In fact, they often act like ad agencies, providing social and digital services, among others, which helps ensure their offering extends far beyond the scope of traditional PR. They’re also doing much more in house, with many positioning themselves as one-stop shops capable of helping their clients meet a much wider range of communication needs.

Large agencies in particular have become adept at working across paid, owned, and earned channels and finding innovative ways to provide value across each. Here are just a few examples:

  • Paid media—When you think of paid media, ads and advertorials often come to mind. But it’s more than that—press releases can also fall into this category, as can native advertising and sponsored content. Large agencies increasingly have expertise in all of these areas, either through in-house resources or partnerships with third parties, and are able to pass that experience on when collaborating with clients.

  • Owned media—This includes the channels that clients own or have direct control over, such as their website, blog, and social media accounts, all of which you can utilize as part of a successful PR campaign. When it comes to owned media, large agencies can bring greater flexibility by, for example, being able to work across multiple languages and time zones. That’s particularly helpful for multinational clients when they have online presences that span multiple geographies.

  • Earned media—Typically encompassing press coverage and the conversations that ensue online as a result, earned media can take many forms. Large agencies have deep expertise and a variety of monitoring tools at their disposal, which they can use to track the various activities occurring across all of the channels their clients are using in their campaigns. In addition, they are able to provide industry benchmarks, which is particularly useful to clients who are keen to see how they stack up against their competition.

That last point is indicative of a growing trend among large agencies, which are increasingly embracing big data as another way to differentiate themselves and provide greater value. Since they often have access to data and high-end tools, many are now able to conduct demographic research that’s on par with what you might expect from a full-service marketing or advertising firm.

To further sharpen their offerings, large agencies are also increasingly employing lots of different PR specialists who possess very particular industry experience and expertise. For example, whereas five or ten years ago agencies might have hired PR specialists who were focused on healthcare, today they are taking that specialization a step further. It’s not uncommon to find agencies with PR staff who are focused on subsets of healthcare, such as pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical devices. That’s because these specialists are much more in tune with the environment of their specific area and have deeper relationships, making them all the more valuable to clients.

With Greater Capabilities Comes Greater Value

Fundamentally, PR has always been about driving impressions, engagement, and conversions and, despite how agencies are evolving, that’s still the case today. It’s what clients expect and what good agencies deliver. However, while the formula for successful PR hasn’t changed, the range of tactics agencies are using to succeed in today’s environment has.

As agencies continue to strengthen their teams and build new capabilities, they’re positioning themselves to provide more value to clients than ever before. In fact, they’re becoming more like advertising or marketing agencies, than traditional PR agencies. For example, they’re now able to:

  • Help clients achieve their goals more effectively—Not only can they help clients set the right goals, they can also help them develop the strategy and execute effectively to ensure they reach them.

  • Find and tell brand stories authentically—Taking news and messages and turning them into lasting narratives has long been a part of PR and that’s still the case today. The key difference, however, is that they now have many more ways to tell those stories.

  • Develop a more holistic view—A good agency will help bring great perspective about clients’ positions in the marketplace as well as where opportunities may lie.

  • Provide insight into their customer base—PR agencies have lots of data and can provide their clients with information and insights about their target audience, what channels they should use, and what messages are resonating most.

  • Understand how (and when) to utilize new tools—With so many different options to choose from, advising clients about what tools they should be using to meet specific objectives is extremely helpful and can lead to greater efficiencies.

  • Uncover actionable data—Through monitoring campaign results, agencies can identify trends that they can use to optimize and enhance future efforts.

The result of all of this is that PR agencies are able to offer much more robust strategic and tactical support than ever before. That’s a good thing given the challenges that you and your clients face.

To get a better sense of the full value that today’s large PR agencies can provide, let’s consider a hypothetical example. Imagine that you have a personal care company client that is promoting two new lines of skincare treatments. One is a prescription anti-aging drug and the other a sunscreen with an innovative active agent. Let’s take a closer look at how two teams within your agency might work to promote each product:

Account Team A is working on a campaign for the new prescription anti-aging drug and its goal is to reach dermatologists, as well as both male and female Gen Xers. To do so, they develop an influencer outreach campaign targeting doctors and beauty and health media and bloggers. That entails in-depth research on buying patterns and user behavior as well as outreach to the actual influencers. By getting those influencers to promote a survey on the signs of aging skin, the team turns the campaign into a lead generation machine. Through paid search and digital advertising, they are able to drive even more consumers to the survey, resulting in additional leads.

Meanwhile Account Team B is working on the campaign for the sunscreen. Their goal is to reach active consumers and families, with a particular focus on moms. To do so, the account team identifies a number of sports and entertainment sponsorship opportunities, including contests and giveaways. They also commit to regularly distributing a variety of content types (videos, blog posts, etc.) to announce their participation at the events. To capture leads, all of these activities encourage consumers to go online, where after sharing their contact info, they can have a photo of their face analyzed to assess how much sun damage it has received.

Challenges Abound

Despite all of the great opportunities you have before you, the fact is that it’s a lot harder to be successful in PR today than ever before. That’s true both for you and for the clients you service. Some of the new challenges agencies face are listed below, along with how they might play out with the two account teams described above:

  • Understanding your real and potential audience—In today’s multichannel online world where there’s so much access to information, you can’t control who consumes your client’s messages. As such, you’ve got to take much greater care to not only understand who your clients are trying to reach, but also who they may be inadvertently reaching in the process. After all, you never know who might get exposed to your latest Tweet or Facebook update. This creates a huge opportunity to reach new audiences, but also calls for a lot more thought about how you craft and frame your messages. It also requires techniques from other disciplines, such as keyword and persona development research.

    Account Team A has two audiences to focus on: dermatologists, which is a small and very targeted group that they can use highly specific tactics to reach, and Gen Xers, which is a much larger and more diffuse audience that will require broader channels and programs to adequately cover.

    Meanwhile, Account Team B is focused on reaching active families and moms, and needs to understand what kinds of events they can leverage to reach them and their families.

  • Channel assessment and prioritization—Evaluate and prioritize the various paid, owned, and earned channels that are available to reach consumers. Rather than take a spray and pray approach, it’s important to narrow your focus on the channels that you believe will have the greatest impact. Remember, you’re a communications agency that offers more than just PR, so every channel is on the table for consideration with your campaigns.

    Both teams will be sharing campaign content across multiple channels—websites, social, press release services, media outreach—but refining the elements for the different target audiences.

    Account Team A might look to use professional events and trade press to reach the dermatologists they’re targeting, and morning TV and national press, among other broader channels, for the Gen Xers.

    Account Team B by contrast, is focused on creating a series of videos about getting kids to wear sunscreen and influencers being active outdoors in the sunshine, which they’ll distribute socially and use to drive moms and their active families to a schedule of family-friendly summer events.

  • Keeping up with the demand for fresh content— Both consumers and journalists have access to content around the clock and they’re constantly refreshing and looking for more. Having something new to say on a regular basis, let alone keeping them impressed, is no small feat. Today’s brands aren’t much different than before, but people simply expect more of them. They want to be constantly stimulated with new information. As an agency, you’ve got to work with your clients to find creative ways to keep their name in the news.

    To meet this demand, Account Team A is using a report for dermatologists based on findings from the company’s research, the highlights of which will fuel a video info series for the Gen Xers.

    Meanwhile, Account Team B is looking at ways to create more user generated content by sponsoring a contest in which moms are encouraged to post their own videos about getting their kids to wear sunscreen. Their active consumers are also encouraged to share videos of their outdoor adventures.

  • Managing the budget—All of the challenges above require resources to properly address. But just because expectations are higher from consumers, that doesn’t mean that brands have bigger budgets to allot toward PR and communications. Your challenge as an agency is to help your clients get the most value no matter what their budgets may be.

  • Account Team A and Account Team B both have tight budgets to work with. As such, they partner closely with their client to prioritize the communication programs and campaigns that will yield the greatest results without exceeding their budgets. They regularly share metrics and data points to assess progress, and redeploy budget to improve ROI.

Overcoming these challenges isn’t easy, but it is possible for today’s next generation PR agencies. So is proving just how much value you are bringing to your clients.

Measuring and Demonstrating Impact

The same advances in technology that have changed how people consume information are also making it possible to measure it in the process. For agencies like yours, that’s the key to demonstrating the impact that you’re having. For example, it’s now possible to track all of the following:

  • Audience metrics—The total number of people who saw or were or exposed to your PR programs as well as demographic information about who those people are.

  • Visitor metrics—The number of visitors coming to your clients’ websites as a result of your PR programs, how much time they spent there, etc.

  • Engagement metrics—Data about whether or not people are responding to your PR programs, i.e., attending your events, sharing your content, and reading your press releases, etc.

  • Conversion metrics—The percentage of people who take a specific, desired action, such as opening an email or signing up for a free trial, as a result of your PR programs.

  • Pipeline and revenue data—The dollar value of the pipeline or revenue that can be attributed to the conversions your PR programs made possible.

  • Press release reporting metrics—Detailed information about who is being exposed to your press releases and how they are engaging with them.

  • Sentiment and influence metrics—The tone of the coverage that your PR programs have garnered (be it positive, negative, or neutral) and how influential the journalists, media outlets, and social media accounts associated with that coverage are.

All of that means that unlike in the past, you have many more ways to prove to your clients exactly how you are influencing their bottom line. The key is to put all of the data you’re able to collect into context for them so that it’s easy to see what you’ve achieved.

Account Team A and Account Team B both track and analyze the results of their campaigns. Their reports are designed to demonstrate the value that they were able to create in the context of the specific campaigns.

It’s a New World, But a Very Promising One

The way people communicate and consume information is evolving. That means that as a large agency you need to as well. You need to adapt with the times by making sure that you’re thinking more broadly about the services you offer, using the right tools, partnering with the right vendors, and hiring the right staff.

Doing so will not only help you better service your existing clients but open the door to lots of other new potential opportunities. Importantly, you’ve got to make sure that you’re able to effectively communicate to clients and prospects alike about the tremendous value you are able to provide.

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