Hooray for the Consultants

As the proprietor of a somewhat successful New York PR consultancy, after years of toiling in the big agency world, I read with more than a passing interest Tom Foremski’s assessment of our industry in Silicon Valley Watcher.

Its title:

“PR Watch: The Disruption Of The PR Industry And
Why Everyone Has Become A Consultant.”

Foremski not only sees agencies retaining more outside consultants to service clients, and by doing so, cutting agency overhead and healthcare costs, but also sees clients dropping their agencies altogether in favor of “very competent” practitioners:

“The PR industry in Silicon Valley appears to be converting to “consultants” en masse. The benefits to PR firms are that they save on payroll and other costs. However, the risk is that PR firms could lose their remaining clients to an army of very competent PR consultants offering services at sharply lower costs compared with PR firms and their higher costs of doing business.”

My consultancy certainly has benefited from the client trend of streamlining, without compromising communications goals. (Though I still take issue with Jeremiah Owyang’s recent suggestion that the client will be better served by simply cutting its agency’s fees.) I recommend that they think outside the big box.

The bigger point Mr. Foremski makes, and has made on previous occasions, has to do with the fate of the PR profession. The picture he paints ain’t pretty. He quotes one west coast agency person:

“No PR firm will be able to justify a monthly retainer of $30,000 just to do media relations and put out a few press releases. The old way of doing PR just doesn’t cut it anymore. Even when the economy comes back, the old way of doing PR won’t.”

So the Silicon Valley-centric minds contend that the old way of doing PR is destined to follow dead tree media to the grave. Perhaps he’s right, but I don’t think so. Few will argue with the disruptive influence that information technology and media fragmentation have had on our industry, especially in their impact on media consumption habits.

Yet one basic client mandate hasn’t changed: to build a greater, more positive and redeeming online and offline presence for their brands, products, services, and points-of-view — whether it’s via The New York Times, Mashable or Facebook. It’s only the means to this end that has.

Pitching and “placing” stories (I hate that term) remains a profitable (and still-effective) calling for PR pros across a wide array of industries. Yet, content creation and optimization, and direct-to-constituency dialogue increasingly drive our clients’ footprint-building goals.

Does this shift portend the death knell for our industry? Hardly. Do agencies and consultants need to adjust? Absolutely.

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