by Michael O'Neill
August 8th, 2013

Last week, media agency group Mediabrands (part of the same Interpublic Group holding company as Weber Shandwick) announced the launch of Mediabrands Publishing, a division dedicated to helping brands become publishers. According to the press release, the new unit would “strengthen [Mediabrands’] capability in real-time storytelling, production and content creation on brands’ owned channels.”

If this sounds suspiciously like a PR agency pitch, that’s because for all intents and purposes it is. Or at least it is a play for the space where PR needs to be. Mediabrands has framed the launch as a further blurring of the lines between media and creative advertising agencies, but the new division also has the potential to cannibalise a fair chunk of PR’s future business. Let’s face it, its not often you hear a media agency refer to itself as a “storyteller”

Mediabrands’ push into owned media should could come as no surprise. Media agencies, just like PR and creative agencies, are simply responding to market realities, as outlined in this earlier article.

It could be argued, though, that PR has a head start. In a recent survey, Ogilvy PR and Campaign Asia-Pacific asked client-side marketers and communicators in Asia Pacific who they would turn to first to develop effective content. Of those surveyed, 20% chose PR agencies, second behind digital specialist agencies, but way ahead of advertising agencies (10%). Media agencies did not even register.

This suggests that PR’s reputation still counts for something. Few clients see media agencies as the natural partner to tell their brand stories, despite what press releases may claim.

But although this is encouraging, it is no more than a launching pad. The battle for the owned media space is only just beginning and you can bet that media, creative and digital agencies will be up for the fight. If you are in PR and you are not talking to your clients about owned media opportunities, you may want to start looking over your shoulder.

Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

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