The traditional PR agency structure is not just outdated today; it has been outdated for years.
Maybe it began with the advent of cable TV, the rise of special interest publications, and the general increase in media choices. It certainly accelerated with the rapid adoption of social media and advances in mobile and personal technology. Maybe varying forms of media should never have been quarantined from each other at all. Regardless, I don't see the industry ever returning to the traditional PR agency structure based on the pace of change in media consumption the world is experiencing.
Study after study tells us that consumers are decreasingly able to differentiate through which channel a brand's message is reaching them. This will only become more difficult – and less relevant – with the growing number of touchpoints available to a brand. As such, the need to work in close collaboration with advertising and digital disciplines gives traditional public relations professionals more opportunities to reach audiences when and where they most welcome it.
Plus, with the ever-growing power of analytics, we can continue to add to our toolbox of ways to ensure we're doing it right. Limiting ourselves to the traditional “PR” and “advertising” avenues would only reverse this forward progress in our larger communications industry.
In terms of the service we're delivering from a strategic standpoint on a daily basis, clients don't care what we call it – they just want it to help solve those issues that keep them up at night. It is no longer enough to operate in a silo; we must view marketing and communications challenges through a holistic perspective if we are to thrive (or frankly, even survive).
This is not to say that all of an agency's accounts must be integrated. I fully recognize that, for many varied reasons, many clients maintain a roster of agencies to handle different aspects of their communications. We will always have clients that are PR-only, but the structural paradigm shift lies in taking the perspective of the entire paid, earned, owned, and shared media landscape, and working collaboratively with our partners who had traditionally been operating outside of our purview.
And finally, one more benefit of changing agency structure to be more integrated? It's fun. The synergistic power that is generated by great minds working together across disciplines is something truly special to behold, and it pays dividends not only to the clients who reap the benefits of beyond-the-obvious ideas, but to the agency team members who are constantly learning, growing, and escaping the constraints of the past. The age of integration is fully upon us. We cannot allow the traditional model to hold us back.
Neil Mortine is president and CEO of Fahlgren Mortine.