PR agencies will not exist in a decade

After Graham White’s response to Joe Hildebrand’s CommsCon speech generated some heated debate on the state of the PR industry, Rob Lowe argues ‘PR agencies’ are already dying out.

PR agencies will cease to exist in the next ten years. Is that shocking enough for you? Well it’s true. Too many PR agencies are outdated, the traditional media landscape is shrinking, and with increasing numbers of advertising, social media and even SEO agencies getting in on the action, we need to smarten up.



I believe we need to redefine what PR is in order to re-educate the industry and clients about the potential for what PR thinking can do. Changing how we refer to the skillset could help.

The words aren’t quite right but for lack of anything better right now, I think PR agencies will start to rename themselves ‘Earned Media Creative Agencies’ or ‘Engagement Agencies’ or anything other than ‘PR Agencies’, which bring to mind less strategic and overpriced press offices with bulging media relations teams.

Being an ‘Earned Media Creative Agency’ won’t mean we focus on creating earned media; that’s just a by-product and it’s what most PR agencies currently do anyway. ‘Earned Media Creative Agencies’ will be more creative and strategic about how we earn media and consumer interest; they’ll focus on the idea first, knowing that awareness via multiple channels will follow and the result will be a behavioural change or shift in perception.

The best earned media creative campaigns I’ve seen recently give the clients’ brands a beneficial role in their consumers lives and engage them with the brand. What can your brand add to people’s lives? Can it entertain, educate, be useful, increase social standing or in some way make the world a better place? This is what interests people, because it’s real and it matters. And if people are interested they’ll share it on social media and traditional media will want to cover it.

It’s exciting times. And being forced to be more creative is fun, because the idea is interesting and people want to hear more. It makes the job so much more enjoyable, means the time spent is more efficient and that the ROI and personal fulfilment is greater.

Creating ideas for brands that people want to share and talk about is a priority for not just the PR industry, but also advertising, experiential and social media. It’s the common thread that brings all great campaigns greater ROI and fame. In an age where communication between businesses and consumers is two-way, it’s the only way forward. So the ‘Earned Media Creative’ skillset will live in every media channel. Some agencies get it and others don’t. The best advertising and PR agencies will incorporate both creative and traditional PR skillsets into what they offer.

Maybe one day, advertising agencies will also cease to exist in the way they’re currently categorised and there’ll be even fewer boundaries.

With all this in mind, it’ll change the way we measure and evaluate what we do, with less emphasis on outputs and more focus on how our ideas have affected consumer behaviour resulting in outcomes and business results. It’ll also mean that earned media skillsets won’t be segregated as a channel since we’ll specialise in making any channel, whether it be paid for, owned or experiential, creatively earn more than its natural output.

Cannes PR Lions are the ultimate recognition of earned media creative work and as we’ve seen before, PR still has lots to learn from the advertising agencies, which have dominated the space. There are however a few PR agencies who are learning and leading the field. They’re the ones to watch out for because in ten years’ time they may not be calling themselves PR agencies.

Rob Lowe is PR director of Eleven PR


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