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PR’s Evolution Is Creating Huge Agency Opportunities—But Skillsets Must Evolve Proportionately

Shannon FureyBy Shannon Furey, Public Relations Director, M STUDIO

As a public relations and communications professional, I run across headlines almost every day touting that PR is a dying industry and how everything from press releases to media relations are ineffective practices. But will companies ever really stop wanting publicity? I think not. If you have been on the receiving end of a successful campaign, the benefits, even if some aspects have a je-ne-sais-quoi factor, are powerful. This, coupled with data-driven strategies that produce quantifiable returns, is what keeps people coming back for more.

For me, the bigger conversation is the evolution, not the stagnation, of our industry; it’s diversifying the tools we use, not eliminating the practice completely. In recent years, opportunities for PR and communications pros to diversify how they service client accounts have been plentiful. With more data to analyze on both the client and agency side, and said data’s impact on content marketing, there are real opportunities for the PR industry—from the nation’s top PR firms to independent consultants—to take ownership of this space, integrate service offerings and, ultimately, become more valuable to their clients. But, this requires skill diversification and a merging of practices under the PR umbrella, which we as an industry must be prepared to own. Our team experiences this quite frequently at our firm, and understands we must constantly evolve and integrate new strategies to be essential partners to our clients.

It isn’t surprising to acknowledge that the ongoing adaptation of communications services is essential. If the industry isn’t evolving, it’s dying after all. With this progress, however, comes the responsibility of cultivating the next generation of professionals who are equipped with an integrated skill set, adding value to our teams and our client relationships. Today’s communicators should be cross-trained in content marketing as well as optimizing content cross-channel. It’s a natural progression after all—think of the myriad pitches PR pros develop to secure stories for clients. These pitching verticals easily translate to owned content strategies and inbound marketing programs. Story angles developed for media translate to thought-leadership programs for clients, honing in on buyer-persona challenges and the tactics needed to connect clients to their market.

So why take this position? This is what our clients expect of us: to develop programs that support their strategic plans and help their businesses grow. This is how we collectively deliver value and keep the industry thriving. A good pitch or a secured story isn’t necessarily enough anymore. The ability to understand inbound and outbound communication channels and execute across various platforms is what is needed.

The industry’s foundational skill sets coupled with integration gives current and new PR pros a competitive edge in the job market, elevates the industry, gives communicators strategic advantages over our counterparts, and creates successes rooted in measurable outcomes for our clients. Beyond that, cross-trained PR pros offer clients greater efficiency. Media relations, content development and social media marketing all become tactics aligned under one strategy, executed by one team, with one voice. This results in efficient resource allocation to integrated strategies that enhance visibility, search-ability and, ultimately, measured growth. In the end, that is what it is all about: growth for our clients and growth for ourselves.

We, as an industry, need to support this shift and provide the education and training necessary to fully leverage our skill set, that of our teams and that of our future employees. This gives us a unique and important position in the communications world. Ongoing work with professional organizations and an increased dialogue with higher education institutions is needed to move the industry forward and positions us all for success. If agencies, account managers and even independent PR pros take advantage of the resources available to them and invest in their future at something as simple as a professional work shop or seminar, they will experience compounding returns. This includes everything from training tools and resources, including webinars and online classes, to some of the industry’s prominent seminars like Content Marketing World and PRSA’s International Conference. By investing time in skill diversification at a variety of levels, PR pros will gain a greater understanding of content strategies, lead-generation tools, analytics and measurement—skills in which we should all be literate. This not only complements our work, but drives an overall strategy.

If you are wondering where to start, in addition to off-site training, our firm always takes advantage of virtual education opportunities and online certifications. From webinars to online classes, there are always resources readily available to invest back in our team to better the client-agency relationship. How we incentivize this learning is up to us. From an intern to senior-level management, the focus on skill diversification is paramount. Acknowledging this is the first step.

Shannon Furey is the Public Relations Director at M studio, an integrated marketing agency with offices in New York and New Jersey.  She is also on the advisory board of the 2017 national advisory council for the Organization of American Women in Public Relations. 

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