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Steve, If there is one thing the role of the Internet and the rise of social networking have taught communications professionals it is that the skills of public relations are more essential now than they have ever been. The opportunity to speak directly to consumers, the inability to say different things to different audiences at different times without being discovered, the end of a "news cycle," and the hyper-competition driven by increasingly distributed industries (like telecom and entertainment) make consistent, accurate and timely communication essential to being heard. The turmoil at large PR agencies is not the result of any one thing, but, as can be seen in the case of Hill and Knowlton, the result of a series of moves in rather short order (six years by my count) based on almost everything other than the give-and-take nature of client relationships. The first occurred in 1980 when J. Walter Thompson bought Hill and Knowlton. The thinking at the time made sense on paper -- we can expand our relationships with our clients -- but failed to take cultural differences into account. Ad agencies saw budgets and clients differently than public relations did. The clients, too, were different. The executives who bought advertising were removed from those who signed public relations' checks. The second occurred in 1981 with the inauguration of a new President of the United States and the advent of the "Reagan Revolution." For public relations agencies, already knocked back by their ad firm owners, the federal decision to return more responsibility to the states put public affairs in the lead. Public affairs is more an off-stage, negotiation than a full-throated public discussion and, because of the stakes, more profitable. Consider how public affairs margins compared to marketing communications margins might skew decision making. The third occurred in 1986 when WPP bought JWT and cemented the era of the publicly held, full-service marketing holding company. Once the unrelenting pressures of the public market began to weigh on cyclical PR account relationships, they bent or broke. It caused agencies to take on accounts that wouldn't do either, whether they fit the firm's historic profile or not. Right now, news of executive and client comings-and-goings seem to diminish the value of public relations. One can only hope there is truth in the notion that reputation lags reality. The reality of how companies are best able to succeed on the new social networking platforms may be an early indication of a renaissance. Anyway, that's my story and I am sticking to it.
Toggle Commented Jan 20, 2011 on Latest H&K turmoil is sad to watch at RepMan
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Jan 20, 2011