PR agencies told to swoop on clients while media agencies are weak

Media agencies are facing an unprecedented “evaporation of trust” and public relations practitioners should fill the void and become more prominent in the agency mix, Ben Shipley, managing director of Spectrum Group told the audience at Mumbrella’s CommsCon.

Shipley said there is an oppourtunity for the PR industry to “take on the big guys and win” in the face of digital transparency issues and international debates about the role media agencies shoud play.

“Having come out of a big WPP network, I definitely see that there is an opportunity to take on the big guys and win. First of all, from an ad agency, media agency perspective, there’s never been an opportunity where they have been as weak as they are right now,” he said.

“You would have seen in the States literally the evaporation of trust in the media agency. We should be doing better at taking advantage of that. Even in this market, if you’d said at the start of the year that we’re going to see a trend where major advertisers were going to be pulling out of Google, everyone would have said “You’re nuts” – but that is exactly what we’re seeing today. People are open to consideration – and as PR professionals, we should be trying to fill that void with a great story.”

During this time of uncertainty, Shipley said PR agencies needed to take back control of language and their own narrative, in order to get a bigger slice of brand’s marketing budgets.

“Competition for the marketing budget is increasing at rates faster than the marketing budgets themselves. There’s more agencies than ever before. New categories of agencies – data agencies, social agencies, specialist agencies, agencies that build technology are now coming in, data-driven agencies. We need to get better at trying to articulate what the value that we have as an industry is, what the difference it makes to the business and why we should get paid more of those dollars.”

Shipley speculated that currently, PR agencies are “lucky” if they get 5% of the marketing budget. Once media spend is factored in, however, he said the figure is actually closer to 1% – and this, he said, needed to change.

PR agencies shouldn’t be afraid to “steal” advertising as a communications method in order to do this, he said.

“Media, advertising and digital agencies are all co-opting our language to explain the future of marketing. When you hear guys like Danny Bass [CEO of IPG Mediabrands] talking about the way the media market is shifting, that brands really need to articulate what’s interesting about themselves to the audience, these are PR ideas. We’ve been doing this for ages. If we don’t take ownership of these concepts and show that we’re the best agencies to deliver them, we’re going to miss out on this opportunity,” he added.

Coinciding with what he thinks is a global backlash against media agencies, Shipley said the walls for PR agencies to compete internationally were coming down.

“I think it’s never been an easier time to compete on a global stage… It’s possible to sell your wares from Australia into other markets. It’s something that advertising agencies do a lot better than PR agencies, and that’s partly because of the way that we explain ourselves,” he said.


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