What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry? The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.
Mark Borkowski – long term public relations maestro, PR Stunt King, survivor of three recessions and still running his eponymous agency.
What are you doing differently in the past 2 years?
In trying to set itself apart from the besieged marketing disciplines , PR has become an increasingly hubristic industry and agencies across the board are cancelling out the skills that set them apart in the first place.
I might be unkind to suggest PR is good at one thing – selling itself – but that doesn’t mean it’s selling something that’s challenging and different.
It seems that there are more PR award ceremonies globally than ever before, and this ubiquity is limiting their impact. The award ceremony culture cheapens the value of awards and the skills that they are meant to celebrate. I’ve judged so many of these awards, and the fact is that awards that are difficult to win just don’t milk the cash cow in the same way.
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I changed my business model because I wanted to work for the right clients. With an agency of 60 staff and an overhead of 1.5 million you can’t make disruptive suggestions and you can’t put forward challenging pitches.
The growth of my business in 90s was built around 20 people. As you grow bigger, you have to be there to sell the business.
What’s your motivation?
I love working and don’t want to retire; I’m curious and interested in keeping things moving. The industry is going through meteoric changes. To remain potent and relevant things had to change to retain the power of the brand. When you have a group of people or clients who are happy with the status quo it’s hard to challenge them to move on.
A truly creative environment needs to breed challenging opinions. In order to do this, a business needs security. This security is negated when companies forget to respect the word ‘no’ and dedicate precious time and resources to chasing new business and expansion. Delivering relevant ideas and a true point of difference must given time, space and investment to do grow. Expanding a outdated business is the essence if insanity
Consider taking small steps and developing a genuine working practise. Give your business time to develop and don’t create a culture based around chasing business to march churn
It’s important to understand your brand and your working style. One of the first things to suffer in businesses that expand too quickly and lose sight of this is investment in talent. The market is saturated and we are not training and turning people out. When you get new joiners from bigger agencies, they invariably come with bad habits as a result of this lack of investment.
I hope that I’m producing something more intelligent; I recruit from an area where bright folks who would have previously gone into journalism come here instead – I invest in agile minds that I can train and work.
Global businesses struggle to foster creativity and thought as they are stuck genuflecting to process. While dealing with local challenges, regional business needs to remain creatively sharp. You have to let the little voices in, as these are the ones that are best at doing the disruptive thinking; they carry the maverick gene in a world that is becoming increasingly entangled in a dangerous obsession with safety-first culture.
We live in a world where nothing is certain and everything is up for grabs; a world defined by speed, co-ownership, engagement, subjective truths, polarity, and stories. We call this world the Now! Economy. To engage with this world, you need to understand stories, and no discipline does this better than PR.
However, to do this well, we must embrace the chaos – as opportunity lies within an element of risk. As Alan Rappeport recently pointed out in an article on Seth Godin’s latest book, The Icarus Deception, we need to“embrace a philosophy of fearlessness, where sorry is better than safe, and to break out of … the ‘industrialist’ mentality”
I am constantly looking to take on major comms briefs to argue that PR can be at the top of the food chain. Other marketing disciplines have tried to move into this field using a formulaic approach, and I have discovered some shocking results, including one team that had built a campaign around a defunct magazine!
I preach an aggregation of marginal gains. The more people who you can bring in from other disciplines, the greater chance you stand of winning business. All too often, the purity of a simple, creative idea gets clogged up by other processes, whether it is in the form of a survey, radio, or social media. Businesses become too focussed on trying to get the client to spend more money, and don’t dedicate enough to thought. Being paid for lateral thinking is far more satisfying than constantly struggling to get a client to spend more on you.
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