Why specialisation is only the first step toward survival

In this guest post Jocelyn Hunter looks at the challenges facing the PR industry and looks at what it will take to survive the next five years and beyond.

Jocelyn Hunter - Bench PRWith CommsCon over for another year I read what Chris Savage said with interest. It seems his comment that ‘half of Australia’s independent PR agencies will go under in the next five years’ has caused quite a stir.

As the managing director of an independent PR agency specialising in technology, I agree with Chris, but this only scratches the surface.

For me, specialisation is only the first step towards survival. If independent PR agencies are to truly thrive in the future, we need to look more closely at who we work with, the technology we use, and our media-focused mindset.

Being ‘bold’ is something Chris said that really struck a chord.

For me, a sustainable and successful PR business lives and dies by its client list, but the best clients are not always the global brands or the ones with the deepest pockets.

They are the ones who get you, want to partner with you, and are interested in how you can help them grow in size or into new markets.

Chris Savage CommsCon 2016

Chris Savage: “Half of Australia’s independent PR agencies will be gone in five years”

Being bold for me is about having the courage to say ‘no’ to a new account if the cultural fit isn’t right. You may lose dollars short term, but long term you will build a client list that is loyal, with accounts that your teams love to work on.

For PR agencies to survive, whatever their size, they need to understand the difference between ‘good revenue’ and ‘bad revenue’. Not all revenue is good. Taking on the ‘wrong’ client or a ‘bad’ client can be particularly devastating for a small PR agency.

Similarly, focusing too much on chasing new business or taking on too many new clients and forgetting your existing loyal clients, is a risky strategy.

We all know the online, mobile and social media revolution is dramatically shifting the media and PR landscape in Australia.

Recent cut-backs, staff losses and the realignment from print to online pay-walls demonstrates this. The media pool is shrinking and we therefore need to offer our clients much more than media relations or ‘creating content’. Frankly, PR agencies need to be better at ‘doing business’.

‘Doing business’ means really understanding your client’s business and its challenges and being able to offer solutions that go much further than launches, releases and opinion pieces – not just in the PR plan, but in day-to-day interactions.

To ensure longevity, we need to deliver and recognise real business value in the same way we do hits, headlines and likes. We need to use our networks and contacts to benefit our clients, to secure that speaking spot at an important event, to put them in touch with other like-minded agencies in other geographies or introduce them to potential partners, influencers and customers.

For independent PR agencies, one of our biggest challenges is how to deliver a big agency service without the process.

Technology is the critical element we overlook, but essentially will help us compete with the large global agencies and thrive longer term. We need to look at embracing new business tools that help us deliver great service but keep us focused on the client’s needs.

Slack is a key tool for my team. It has cut internal email traffic by half and decisions are made more quickly.slack new offices

We’ve been Xero fans for years, so we know exactly at any given time how the business is tracking financially and Zendesk is a great tool for centralising and responding to any incoming enquiries.

The old adage of ‘get big, get niche or get out’ is certainly going to ring true over the next few years.

The independent agencies that prosper will be the ones that specialise in one area, embrace new technologies and stop thinking ‘media hits’ when they should be thinking carefully about cultural fit, whether their business can grow with their clients and if they can add real business value to them long term.

Jocelyn Hunter is the managing director of Bench PR


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.