Omnicom Group's Ketchum this week launches a global service aimed at helping corporations make sense of the rapidly evolving world of interactive media, one that isn't dominated by reporters and editors. The agency, one of the PR industry's largest, is assigning executives around the world as experts in the five individual technologies and tools that fall under Ketchum Personalized Media's umbrella: blogs, podcasting, real-simple syndication, search-engine optimization and mobile marketing.
While PR shops have long had interactive components, Ketchum's offering is an attempt to integrate these tech advances into broader communications strategies.
"The end-user is getting greater control by the day over the type of information and the style of information they're getting," said Paul Rand, partner-managing director of Ketchum's Chicago office. "If the mainstream media is one of the tools they use, then that's terrific. But increasingly we're finding the value of these broader-based outlets is diminishing because of the increased ability for people to personalize where and how and in which format they're getting their information."
The Ketchum offering comes during troubled times for the mass news outlets that once held unparalleled sway in molding popular opinion. Network news broadcasts are struggling with declining audience, while newspapers are trying to make their product more appealing to younger demographics. Meanwhile, interactive media have exploded, with the number of blogs nearing 10 million and the number of podcasts-a virtually unheard of channel a year ago-at more than 5,000, according to Feedburner.
It's natural that marketers would want to see how effective these new media are in delivering messages, but this kind of shift could require different priorities for PR firms. That's especially the case in the areas of research and planning, where PR agencies have often relied on less than rigorous techniques for unearthing consumer insights, like man-on-the-street polls, or back-end analysis and evaluation of earned media.
"Firms need to take an audience-based approach to communications planning, in addition to an influencer-based approach," said Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Havas' Euro RSCG Magnet. "This probably sounds familiar because ad agencies, for years, have been masterful at doing upfront research and their clients have willingly paid large sums of money to uncover findings that in theory and practice will help direct a campaign."
While Mr. Kwittken describes the industry's historic reluctance to directly engage consumers as its "poison pill," he and other executives aren't pushing to abandon its use of traditional journalists.
"I can't see someone thinking about a blogging program without thinking about how it will impact the press and other bloggers and how to relate to them when they react to something you write," said Steve Rubel, VP of client services at the independent PR firm CooperKatz and author of the blog MicroPersuasion.
Ketchum’s effort is a response to the growing choice consumers have in when and how they get information