PR Agencies Take on Broader Remit

By Pawinska, Maja | Marketing, April 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

PR Agencies Take on Broader Remit


Pawinska, Maja, Marketing


Media relations is no longer the be-all and end-all of the PR sector.

The days of the roster are numbered. Clients previously had no choice but to turn to specialists for their advertising, media relations, direct mail, event management, media buying, design, research or sponsorship needs. But they are now slimming their rosters, and PR agencies are grabbing a fair share of the work.

"Viewing PR through the narrow filter of media relations does not serve clients' best interests. The 'influencer' audience is critical, yet agencies typically equate 'influencer' with 'journalist' and leave it at that," says Rebecca George, head of August. One Connect UK.

"Key influencers such as analysts, government, industry groups, academics and even employees are better reached through specific communications aimed directly at them."

And PR companies, it seems, are well-placed to offer such a broader service. GBC board director Neil Vose says: "Progressive PR companies should always be looking to develop bespoke solutions for clients. People shouldn't be surprised that PR agencies offer marketing services -- they always have done--it's just that there has been a lack of appreciation of it."

The internet has had a major influence on the growing perception of PR as a medium that can reach target audiences directly and often subtly.

"The dotcoms are up for anything, which means we have been able to explore new channels away from media relations. It's all up for grabs, provided you are clear about what you are offering," says Band & Brown chief executive Nick Band.

The speed with which new media companies are born and sold has also been a factor in the new ways PR agencies are being used.

Adapting to client needs

"Diversification has been driven by the need to support clients through shorter product or service lifecycles, from the initial idea to IPO or trade sale," says Jonathan Simnett, vice-chairman of technology specialist Brodeur Worldwide.

"In the fast-moving technology sector, PR agencies can offer a range of services that deliver consistent messages to target audiences -- whatever the marketing instrument used."

Viral marketing, which can involve spreading news online via chat rooms, or e-mails being forwarded to friends, is a strategy being embraced by many PR companies. Charlton Communications is one agency that has made the most of the internet by creating a new division, called 1000 Heads.

This provides an uber-focus group of 1000 people across the country, all with internet access, who undertake viral marketing campaigns, acting as mouthpieces to spread the word about a company in chat rooms, online forums and newsgroups.

The client area most suited to viral marketing is, naturally, online brands. Marketing portal Hitsnclicks.com uses Charlton for media relations, but also used 1000 Heads in its pre-testing stage. On the day of its launch, it had nearly 51,000 hits as a result.

"Using viral marketing has been more effective than pure media relations, as it gave us feedback from people from different regions and backgrounds before we launched," says Hitsnclicks chief executive Fraser Hay.

Learning new techniques

Band & Brown is also a big user of viral, guerrilla and ambient marketing techniques for clients. It has branded eggs, apples, ATMs and manhole covers in Camden for Uprush, a street culture web site.

It also created a campaign for BT Payphones to find the country's top football mastermind through games consoles in phone boxes, linked to web chats with Alan Hansen, the football commentator, and a viral e-mail campaign.

Away from the new media, other PR agencies are becoming specialists in older marketing areas such as field marketing. Elizabeth Hindmarch PR, for example, carries out sampling campaigns for clients including Hawaiian Tropic. …

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