Do PR agencies need to adapt or die?

Darika Ahrens at Forrester has blogged that that changing nature of ‘interactive marketing’ has the potential to make PR agencies largely irrelevant:

Why is PR at risk of losing their seat at the interactive table?

  • Traditional media decreasing in relevancy
  • Frontline ‘public relations’ online moving in-house
  • PR agencies tend to lack specialised service
  • Interactive marketing spend is dominated by Search and Paid advertising

She believes that the answer to the ‘problem’ facing PR agencies, among other things, is to build their search engine capabilities.

I haven’t seen the reaction to this yet though I’m sure there’ll be much breathless discussion of the topic across Twitter.

I have two core thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, ‘traditional PR’ is not dying as quickly as (it’s ever) been forecasted.  The reality is that traditional media still drives the majority of news cycles and much of the emerging online news is driven by key, identifiable influencers.  As a result the core PR business will survive for the time being.

Secondly, do PR agencies need to review the services they are offering and the skills of their people? Well that question isn’t reserved just for PR agencies.  Every PR and marketing professional needs to review their skills and capabilities in view of the new ways people are finding, sharing and creating information online. PR agencies are no different, they need to match the need for traditional services with services that address changing models of influence.  That’s their business.

The model for online marketing is evolving and changing in step with consumer consumption habits.  The idea that ‘interactive agencies’ will simply replace PR firms is at best a long shot and at worst a fallacy.

We live in interesting times.  One of the most enjoyable elements of a career in Public Relations is the constant need to change and adapt. The past ten years has shown me that change never takes place as quickly as people expect, but that change does happen. It’s not just PR firms that need to be actively looking at how the models of influence are changing, it’s every marketers’ challenge.


Today’s a busy day for the PR agency love meme. Haydn Shaughnessy over at Forbes has an interesting post on what PR companies are doing wrong.

4 thoughts on “Do PR agencies need to adapt or die?

  1. Agreed. People always seem bent on renaming things. Though the channels of PR may have changed the fundamentals are still there. What’s changed is the application of the fundamentals.

    We develop influencer identification software at eCairn and a good majority of our users are just traditional PR firms using the software to apply their skills to the new social channels.

  2. Hi Tom, a brilliant post. I started Dinosaur PR two years ago and my own blog Dead Dinosaur was all about the evolution of communications and the fact we as PR people need to adapt to a changing world. I don’t think marketing agencies will make PR companies redundant that is a daft concept. A marketer isn’t the best person to turn to in an online crisis and so many start online these days. It still amazes me how many young graduates are given the role of community management without any proper training because if you do something wrong online it can quickly go wrong and effect your organisations reputation and that’s what we do in this industry reputation management – that hasn’t changed at all.

  3. Thanks Chris I completely agree. The argument doesn’t reflect the complexity in traditional communication, don’t mind when you add social channels to the mix. There’s life in the old dog yet!


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