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Head to Head: Is the traditional PR agency model broken?

In this series, Mumbrella invites the most senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues. This week, PPR's Michael Pooley goes head to head with ZADRO's managing director Felicity Zadro.

This week’s debate us all about whether the traditional PR agency model is broken. Pooley argues yes, it is, and agencies focused primarily on media relations will find it difficult to stay relevant. Zadro however, says traditional models will survive as PR is, and always has been, about listening to clients and telling their stories. 

Who do you agree with?

Is the traditional PR agency model broken?

Yes, argues, Michael Pooley, chief operating officer, PPR:

“If the ‘model’ in question is based on a siloed, media-relations-focused approach, then yes, an agency will find it very difficult to remain relevant and effective in the eyes of their clients. Publicity will remain a part of a PR agency offering for as long as independent journalist media exists. But if I look at PPR today and the unique model that we have built, media relations comprises a diminishing share of our day-to-day work.

Pooley: “Media relations comprises a diminishing share of our day-to-day work”

Instead, we got out of the Sydney and Melbourne ‘bubbles’ and built a model that gives us greater proximity to the communities our clients want to engage. We did this through building a unique six office network across ANZ and through investment in data and insights. It’s enabled us to develop communication campaigns with greater meaning, purpose and shared value by getting brands to think differently about their communications. As a result, we’re finding we are taking a greater share of the client’s marketing spend as they understand how PR can deliver stakeholder engagement, digital community management, influencer engagement, content, experiential and hyper-local owned and paid communications in a trusted and authentic way that resonates with their audiences.

Brands will ultimately fail if they do not build trusted relationships with their communities. Media relations will have its place in helping to build this trust. But as this gets more difficult, PR agencies that evolve beyond the traditional model will find their client numbers swell, their revenues increase and their talent pool diversify and strengthen.”

No, argues, Felicity Zadro, managing director, ZADRO:

“This question is a good thought-starter. My first thought was, what is a traditional PR agency model? And then, just how much have agencies evolved since the first ‘press agent’ opened-up in the 19th Century?

Of course, the way we provide public relations services has changed immensely; consider technology, global clients, fractured media, citizen journalism, integrated communications, coverage measurement, social media, media ownership etc.

Zadro: “The model has always been at its core about listening to clients, articulating their story”

But the model? For me, the model has always been at its core about listening to clients, articulating their story, working out how to best tell that story to the people that matter to them the most, and helping them form productive relationships with their stakeholders.

The agency model – using specialists with lots of experience doing work that takes a lot of time to master – is simply a good, economical way for businesses to get the services they need but don’t have in-house.

With the complexity of our media and stakeholder relationships on the rise, and for all the many and varied ways we can engage our communities to talk about our brands, the age-old act of a communications professional sitting down with a client to listen to their challenges and come up with solutions to help them, is still as relevant today as it always has been.”

  • As told to Abigail Dawson. If you’re a senior PR professional who would like to take part in a future Head to Head, please email abigail@mumbrella.com.au
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