The next bold step in PR #coronavirusSA

by Lebo Madiba (@Lebonator) Now, more than ever, a new PR agency model is needed as a platform to conceptualise and deliver cohesive campaigns that will guarantee both impact and value. And agility in communications can only be delivered through agility in structure. Command-and-control models that depend on centralised management embedded in slow-moving bureaucracies just can’t deliver on radically altered client needs and fundamentally changed consumer habits.

The world is a very different place today than it was even a short six months ago. The covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work and interact and, especially, the way we communicate. Consumer expectations and behaviours are changing rapidly — in a way never seen before — and businesses are under intense pressure to adapt in order to survive.

PR agencies are similarly under duress to change their operating models and, in particular, to use digital platforms to differentiate brands within an entirely new operating environment. At the heart of this is the need to connect with consumers at an authentic level while still delivering value and tangible ROI. Are traditional PR agency models up to the task or is a new kind of agile, responsive and value-driven model required?

New ways of engaging a new kind of customer
As the nature of customer engagements shift, PR needs to be acutely responsive and uniquely innovative. In an entirely different socioeconomic landscape, its task is nothing short of having to develop new ways of engaging and retaining customers whose needs and behaviours have changed fundamentally, probably for good. This shift means that the role of PR in the marketing mix is being re-evaluated and redefined. Practitioners are no longer simply regarded as messengers. Their value as engagers and influencers, who’re able to nurture meaningful relationships with customers and measure the value of that engagement in a dynamic way, is now well-recognised.

With the C-suite’s priority now being to retain customers and secure their loyalty, marketing and communications spend is also being re-evaluated, with leaner budgets being expected to deliver on an expanded and more complex set of goals. This calls for PR to be more integrated with sales, marketing and CRM to drive positive growth.

Creating long-term customer value
So, as businesses shift from crisis to recovery — and eventually adapt to the ‘new economy’ — PR has an essential role to play in turning trusted customer relationships into long-term business value by entering into a space that tracks not only customer satisfaction but also digital engagement and lifetime customer value. This means nothing more or less than building a single view of the customer for brand owners.

The post-covid-19 PR agency needs to be integrated and flexible. Focused on craft and delivery, it needs to be quick to respond to changing circumstances and, especially, to be cost-effective and results-driven.

A new kind of PR agency model
Within this context, there’s a growing need for independent, owner-managed agencies that are as invested in the success of a client’s business as the client is. As important, with budgets as lean as they are, is that clients need the assurance that their spend will be used to create value and not to sustain the bureaucracy of a large network agency.

The covid-19 crisis has made clients keenly aware of the value of leaner, more-responsive and -invested teams that may be constituted as appropriate for each project from highly skilled and experienced talent pools. They need agencies that feel their pain and share their goals, and which offer both dedicated teams and senior consultancy as part of the standard offering.

With this in mind, it will be difficult for traditional PR agency models to be retrofitted into the new world we suddenly find ourselves in, especially as their methodologies may be making it difficult for them to be responsive and innovative. Clients are ready for a new way of doing business that suits the times, having recognised that the traditional PR model of building, pricing and providing a service is misaligned with the need for rapid and articulate innovation.

PR agency of the future
The PR agency of the future will be fundamentally invested in helping clients recover from the covid-19 shock and in returning to stability and growth. To do this, they need agencies that can deliver genuine integration in pursuit of shared goals — integration that will combine the discipline of a strategic approach with innovation and agile execution. This new kind of relationship will be driven by a partnership mindset, with the agency being a value provider rather than simply a service provider.

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