Alongside the recent upsurge of enthusiasm for content marketing, there has been a glut of articles telling us why this is great news for PR. See here and here for just two examples from many. As marketing budgets transition from paid to earned and owned media, particularly though online and social media, the advertising and communications market environment appears to be looking favourably on PR.
The basic argument is not wrong. A recent study from Campaign Asia Pacific and Zenith Optimedia, points out that marketers in Asia Pacific are planning to allocate just 51% of their budgets to traditional paid media in 2013, with the rest going to owned (25%) and earned (24%) media. The study found that paid media’s share of the ad spend pie is expected to drop to 43% by 2015. Meanwhile, progressive brands such as Dell, IBM and Coca-Cola are busy launching owned platforms online and hiring journalists and other content specialists.
However, while owned and earned media are becoming more important for client marketers, the key question is whether PR agencies are ready to take advantage of this phenomenon. A note of caution comes out of China in the form of a new report from marketing consultancy R3. The study found that while clients in China are currently placing 29% of their total PR budgets into online PR (a figure that is expected to rise to 50% within four years) only half of that amount is actually going to PR agencies. For China at least, 44% of online PR spend is actually going to digital agencies.
And that is just the start. With their traditional advertising business models becoming less and less relevant, creative ad agencies are increasingly looking at how they can get a piece of the action. And the danger — for PR agencies at least — is that these agencies already have the talent, money and, most importantly, the survival imperative to get this right, and fast. If PR agencies are not careful, they could find that owned and earned media spend passes them by.
So what should PR be doing? To start with, they need to do less talking and a lot more doing, especially in Asia. Five year's ago, PR executives were excited about the opportunities that lay ahead with the social media explosion. Perfectly acceptable response, but in terms of actual action many agencies in the region did little more than simply hire a new ‘digital guy’ or social media expert; a ticking of the digital box.
Agencies need to make sure they don't repeat this mistake. To fully take advantage of the owned and earned media trend, they need to infuse digital creativity throughout their network and practices. They need to build teams of designers, editors, coders, developers and more, capable of recognising and responding to the opportunities when they emerge.
The client-agency relationship of the future is going to be a fascinating space. The days of hiring agency X to do the creative and agency Y to buy the media are long gone and are never coming back. Clients will choose from a varied menu of marketing services, which can often mean not just a mix of the big MNC agencies but also the input of smaller, more specialised shops. When it comes to owned and earned media, clients will not hire on reputation or perceived traditional strength, but will choose the agencies that can provide them with the creativity and talent that best delivers results. PR needs to make sure it is part of this mix.
Michael O'Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick