Stuck in the PR Past

In taking the microphone at the Council of PR Firms’ recent Critical Issues Forum, co-hosted by Ketchum’s Rob Flaherty and Council prexy Kathy Cripps, I had hoped to balance the reality of agency existence with its social media aspirations.

In a nutshell, the industry, including the largest independent, remains possessed, if not hunkered down by the practice of generating ink and airtime for clients. And it’s not necessarily the digital variety. MSM faves like The Wall Street Journal, NBC “Today” and Newsweek still hold considerable clout when it comes to how clients (and agency management) assess the worth of their hired hands.

Media “placements” still drive, if not validate our industry’s raison d’etre. They produce industry awards. Clients crave (and pay handsomely for) them. And our success by-and-large continues to be measured by this age-old deliverable. Is it right? Does it jibe with the times? Is it changing? Is it changing fast enough? Does it even need to change?

I had hoped to make an impression (forgive me) on that esteemed gathering of agency leaders by inspiring a re-think of how clients measure our output. After all, what happens when the old media guard no longer has the juice to drive sales, stock price or reputation? Will clients still see the value in our product offering?

One would think that the accelerating mass fragmentation of news/info/entertainment media, coupled with a new generation of media consumers, changes the formula, right? Sadly, not yet. What’s worse, our sibs in advertising have an habitual upper hand. Their clients have never measured their agencies’ performance based solely on the breaking of an ad execution. They’ve always had quants to assess their effectiveness.

As an industry, we need to more quickly embrace a measurement standard that looks at how our efforts produce qualified leads, measured perceptual change, stock price increases, etc. The days of quantifying media impressions are numbered. Qualified impressions, however, along with SEM, SEO, a comfortable home in that book of faces, magnetic digital content, etc. are ascending.

My buddy Howard Bailen pointed me to a curious piece out of Australia in which a mainstream tech journalist lost his job because his offline product reviews didn’t generate enough online clicks. Will we, as an industry, soon follow the same fate?