Gabbi Cahane thinks design groups are missing a trick by failing to target PR agencies for branding work
The image industry is growing rapidly, particularly within PR. As it does so its own image is increasingly coming under scrutiny.
Once the so-called ‘era of spin’ had been defined, it brought about a credibility nosedive for the companies that created it. Since then they have been struggling to create a sense of professionalism, while retaining the feeling of creativity and flair that is central to the industry.
Identifying where a PR agency is placed in the market is a real challenge for an industry that is often misunderstood, rarely promoted outside its own clique and usually mistaken for a variety of other marketing services.
PR, it seems, has failed to heed the very advice it provides to most clients. As Patrick Barrow, of the Public Relations Consultants Association, says, ‘It’s a case of the cobbler’s shoes – the industry isn’t very good at its own PR.’
However, Barrow believes that, with the increasing demand to justify their costs to clients, many agencies are beginning to invest heavily in their brands.
This is reflected by Matt Wood, ex-director of PR agency Joe Public Relations, who is soon to launch his latest company to the market.
‘Branding is an absolute necessity these days, because there are so many agencies in the UK (over 3000) trying to do similar things and target the same companies,’ he explains. ‘In many cases, it’s only the identity that differentiates the companies from each other. We have spent a great deal of time identifying the name, tone, attitude and positioning that the company will take. We are now reflecting these elements in every aspect of the company’s communications.’
PR agencies clamber over each other to work for the biggest and the strongest commercial brands, yet few appreciate that their clients would love to do the same – they want to work with the best PR agencies, but see little difference between them. As brands, they often remain the poor cousins to ad agencies and would relish the opportunity to move further up the marketing food chain.
Most PR agencies choose from a menu of media relations, strategic support, crisis management and influencer relations. Variation is only achieved through the audiences they expertly target – such as consumer, corporate or youth. It is rarely their products that set them apart.
It makes sense, then, to differentiate on the basis of what they stand for, rather than what they do. The company’s people, its thinking and the business culture, are more likely to express the kind of relationship a client should expect, than a menu of products. PR is a people business and, as a brand, should be represented as such – highlighting the strengths of character it has to offer.
So where does design fit in? There is a need to review the industry itself – its role is to help PR agencies understand what they really stand for and where they fit in, while devising the best design and brand strategy to communicate these values. They must also find a way to reflect their clients’ needs. But such a task is never an easy one and certain challenges inevitably arise:
• Reputation – PR agencies focus on the reputation of their clients, but rarely remember to review their own
• Lack of consistency – some choose a catchy name and ‘appropriate’ font, but few will ensure that the brand identity resonates through all internal and external communications and collateral
• Nothing to touch – there is nothing tangible to promote in PR. To differentiate the brand from others, agencies must engage personally with potential clients
The opportunities need not end there. Our PR clients have all gone on to become successful partners.
There is enormous potential to develop long-term alliances to win business together, work with each others’ client base, support each other in effective campaigns, and advise each other strategically on best practice in their respective disciplines.
By doing so, it is also possible to gain a greater depth of understanding of communications issues, through mutual support.
I believe we have an opportunity to pick the PR world up by the scruff of its neck, dust it off, and set it back on its way, looking respectable, credible and a great deal better than it does today.
Gabbi Cahane is founder of branding and PR consultancy Ammunition
BRANDING THE PR INDUSTRY
If you want to crack the PR industry you should remember:
• PR agencies care more for their clients than they do for themselves – you need to convince them that a look in the mirror will provide more questions than answers
• Get to the heart of the company – understand the culture of the agency, for that is what the brand must represent
• Look around you – many more opportunities lie in working with an agency once you have already worked for them