PR’s Great Expectations

Stopped in to Brightwaters at the South Street Seaport this morning to take part in the second annual Council of PR Firms-sponsored Critical Issues Forum.

With the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop, the 100+ “who’s who” agency dwellers were treated to four speakers including former CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward, IBM’s SVP, communications Jon Iwata, Pete Blackshaw, formerly of Intelliseek now EVP of Nielsen Line Strategic Services, and luncheon keynote and best-selling author Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller and Hillary strategist (in which order, I don’t know).

Harvard B School professor and Marketspace chairman Jeffrey Rayport moderated the event with aplomb. He kicked it off with some eye-opening metrics, some of which I Twittered via my Blackberry. He said that digital media now comprises 35% of consumers’ worldwide media consumption, yet only 7% of companies’ marketing budgets are allocated to the digital space. (eMarketer expects that number to increase to 10% by next year.) Still a huge gap, representing an even huger opportunity for those in the e-marketing space.

He also said that the four “portals” (I’m dating myself) – AOL, MSN, Google and Yahoo – have a 92% share of gross ad dollars, and that’s growing, bolstered by some $15 billion in M&A deals in the online advertising and analytics space over the last year. Finally he shared yearly page-view growth rates of some online favorites: portals, roughly 8% year; entertainment sites, 21% a year, and…ta da, Facebook 240+%. Make room, he predicted, for a new online conglomerate to displace the old.

Rayport reminisced about Marc Zuckerberg’s rejection of an offer that would have valued the online community in the $900 million range. Enter Microsoft a year or so later, and we’re now talking a $15 billion valuation. This may even be a low ball.

I had a chance to talk privately with former CBS prexy Heyward about the state of media and journalism. One question, and he was off to the races. Here’s the audio clip (RT: 5:04). Ketchum CEO and incoming Council chairman Ray Kotcher also was on hand. He had this to say (RT: 6:41) about the brave new world that lies ahead and our industry’s great expectations.