Head to Head: Is PR trying to be everything to everyone?

In this series, Mumbrella invites the industry's senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues. This week, Attention+Influence's Simone Pipkorn goes head to head with Eleven PR's Fiona Milliken on whether or not PR is trying to be everything to everyone.

With the definition of PR constantly evolving and the industry expanding its remit, is PR trying  too hard to be everything to everyone? Attention+Influence’s Simone Pipkorn says PR professionals are generalists and therefore they’re good at doing a lot of different things. However, Eleven’s Milliken says PR isn’t the media relations business anymore, it’s the culture business and therefore, is not everything to everyone.

Yes, argues Simone Pipkorn, managing partner, Attention+Influence:

The short answer’s yes.

PR professionals, by nature, are generalists. They take the brief, analyse environmental and audience insights, write the strategy, create the plan, execute and evaluate. It’s in our nature – and embedded into ways of working – that we own the client brief from end-to-end. It means we’ve become pretty good at a lot of things. It also made us adaptable.

Pipkorn says PR professionals are generalists

So when influencer partnerships came along, we turned our hand to it. Social required an effective management of a message, so we looked at that, too. We explored content and editorial from the background of understanding the media landscape and what makes a good story.

But this position of communication has meant as an industry, we’ve often struggled when it comes to integrating with specialists.

The role of PR is effective communication across channels. We can all agree on this. But an agency that genuinely believes they’re able to have a team of pure-play PR people effectively respond to briefs that encompass diverse streams of work – not to mention a paid environment more often than not – is likely to be trying to be everything and not as effective as they should be.

When we merged PR Edge and Newsroom to form Attention+Influence, we made a conscious effort to build a team that leveraged all the strengths inherent to PR with discipline specialists across content, social, media engagement, influencer and digital so we weren’t – as individuals – trying to be everything to everyone. We are a full-service agency, but we’re only able to do that with a team that’s broader than PR.

Generalist thinking will only get the industry so far. PR needs to acknowledge its instinctual position to be everything to everyone, to know what it doesn’t know, and bring in specialists when the brief requires it.

No, argues Fiona Milliken, general manager, Eleven PR:

“We’ve always been great story tellers, creating ideas that earn attention and get discussed and shared. Traditionally, this has meant that ideas have a newsworthy hook that interests media.

Fast forward to the present day and storytelling is no longer just about getting in the paper, but in to all the places those stories are read, heard, watched and debated.

Milliken says PR engages with people whenever and wherever they are

PR isn’t trying to be all things to all people, but it absolutely is ensuring it engages with people whenever and wherever they are now. We’re no longer in just the media relations business. We’re in the culture business.

A brand’s place in culture is its most powerful competitive advantage and source of growth. It involves creating an idea that makes people feel or act. It brings about change in our audiences. This core idea can come to life in many different ways – from media relations, activations, social media and influencers.

By the very nature of PR creating culture, it means that earned ideas can also work across other disciplines. But this doesn’t mean PR is trying to be everything to everyone. It’s simply being smart and using the core idea across as many different channels as possible, using specialists to make it happen.

Working within the TBWA collective means it’s easy to pick and choose the right specialists to explore those ideas. This can be across everything from shopper marketing and traditional advertising to UX and content creation.

PR is a powerful discipline with a linchpin role in creating ideas that can and often do spill into culture beyond media relations.”

  • 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

To see industry heavyweights discuss PR’s identity crisis and how it will evolve as an industry, hear the panel featuring Attention+Influence’s creative partner, Mike Doman and more at Mumbrella’s CommsCon.

Fiona Milliken and creative director at Eleven and TBWA, Russ Tucker, will also be presenting a session on How Brands are Becoming the Next Social Leaders at Mumbrella CommsCon.


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