ITL #276 - The silent revolution: the new face of public relations

2 months, 2 weeks ago

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More channels, eroding trust in traditional media and new demands on the client side: the world of PR is changing dramatically. But these market challenges could form a new type of communication agency. By Michael Tobias.



As an old hand in PR, I’m able to look back on a period of more than 20 years in this sector. In the early nineties, when I first started my career, the PR business was much easier to understand. The daily task was to tailor clients’ content and supply it to widely recognized media. Or to create concepts to trigger broad media coverage for topics that may have seemed insignificant at first glance. That was it.

Yet was everything better in the good old days?  By no means. While I agree that our work has become more challenging, I also anticipate a number of new business opportunities for PR professionals. Here are five strong assertions pointing to a bright PR future:

First: modern PR professionals are less dependent on public media

The business of PR agencies is no longer about simple content delivery. Rather, it’s about building strong communities. It’s about creating unforgettable brand experiences, generating product awareness and building strong contacts to our clients’ customers – in short, it’s about providing added value.

Such an approach demands multi-channel thinking and enhanced strategic skills. While this is challenging, it also renders the PR sector more independent from the development and perception of public media.

However, to ensure there are no misunderstandings: PR without strong public media is also hard for me to imagine. This is why we have to fight against fake news and strengthen an independent media as an important cornerstone of democracy – and as a crucial element in building customer trust.

At the same time, it should be noted that the importance of public media for communication professionals is decreasing. After all, it is now only one channel among many – and sometimes not even the most important one.   

Second: content marketing is more than just a buzzword

The rise of Content Marketing, i.e. the appreciation of professional content with added value for users, generates a strong demand for communication professionals with a keen eye for the interests and wishes of media users. To put it simply, there is a growing call for PR professionals with journalistic skills.  My prediction is that this demand will further increase, driven by social media. 

Third: owned media is PR’s home turf

Today, 40 percent of sales at our agency are earned with media production – and this figure is set to increase. We are no longer a content supplier for public media; we are producer of media.

Our clients build their own trustworthy media brands. PR know-how helps them to establish their media and to be heard in the flood of information. In the future, this competency will be needed more than ever. In 2018, the Edelman Trust Barometer stated for the first time that public media is the least trusted institution globally.   

Fourth: PR agencies are investing in additional competencies

Over the past decade, PR agencies – and not only the big ones – have invested in additional skills. At our small agency, for instance, we added editorial design skills to our portfolio, implemented film production, established ourselves in the area of internet page set-up and design, and entered the market for HSEQ communication.

We also enhanced our knowledge about the measurability of communication success. Many other agencies did the same, broadening their know-how for content-driven communication. This puts PR agencies in an excellent position for further growth. In addition, this development demonstrates the willingness of PR agencies to change and their ability to innovate.  

Fifth: clients love the idea of a leading agency

Clients are still reluctant to deal with several agencies in a project. While they are aware that one agency cannot be the best in all communication disciplines, they like the idea of a leading agency dealing with all other project partners on their behalf.

The rise of content-driven communication means that PR agencies are becoming the partner of choice to carry out this role. This pole position in the minds of our clients also offers potential for further growth.

I am thoroughly convinced that PR agencies will shape the future of communication. The golden age of content-driven marketing has only just begun. 


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The Author

Michael Tobias

Michael Tobias founded Michael Tobias Content Marketing (MTCM) in 2015. MTCM is an owner-managed PR agency with roots in Birmingham (UK) and Solingen (Germany). The agency is a full-service partner, providing reliable content for companies in the chemical and life science sector, both in German and English. Its customers include two DAX-listed companies, and the agency is one of the Top 8 PR firms in the chemical sector in Germany (according to Pfeffer’s PR Ranking 2017).

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