PR Agencies Still Playing Catch-Up

Shops Need to Start 'Doing It Themselves' to Be Able to Counsel Clients

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With so many marketers and agencies preaching endlessly about the importance of going digital, it may come as a surprise that more than 30% of marketing and public-relations professionals believe the C-suite remains indifferent to digital marketing. That's just one of the findings from the "Digital Doubts and Disconnects" survey of nearly 500 PR News readers conducted by communications firm Peppercom.

Steve Cody, managing partner at Peppercom, said agencies have to shoulder some of the blame. "From the PR perspective," he said, "not enough agencies are walking the walk and doing it themselves. So they are not in a firsthand position to counsel clients. There's not enough learned experience to make the entire PR industry comfortable in leading this discussion. There's maybe one-10th of the overall PR-agency world really stepping up and providing strategic counsel."

Need to get out of comfort zones
Tom Nicholson, CEO of digital agency IconNicholson, said he believes trying to take marketers out of their comfort zones is what's most responsible for the holdup. "Everyone is universally onboard with the idea that digital is a medium they need to be in," he said. "But things don't change overnight." And moving money out of traditional advertising, he said, "is going to be a cautious step."

According to the study, nearly half (48%) of respondents said they are somewhat prepared to handle a crisis online, and only 4% said they are very prepared. A surprising 15% said they are completely unprepared, while a clueless 13% didn't know whether they are prepared or not.

"This speaks directly to their acknowledgment of what blogs and social networks can do in terms of killing them in a crisis," Mr. Cody said. "And it tells me they are being reactive with the money they are spending in this space as opposed to being strategic."

How to get clients to take digital seriously

Peppercom managing partner Steve Cody suggests waving the digital exploits of the competition in their faces. "That will hit them in the gut," he said. He also recommends providing some best-practice examples clearly showing how digital marketing has affected a marketer's bottom line.
Tom Nicholson, IconNicholson CEO, advises telling clients that digital channels are less about advertising and more about engagement. "Getting marketers to accept that is an important element but a bit of a climb," he said. "If the customer is engaged with the brand, they have a loyal customer."
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