Is the consumer PR industry having an identity crisis?

11th April 2024

Written by Juliet Price, Deputy Managing Director 

‘Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.’ We’re all well versed in the differences between ‘paid for’ and editorial, as well as understanding the fundamental added value of earning coverage rather than buying it.

Yet more and more, we’re seeing and hearing about PR agencies and brands paying for editorial coverage. Have we forgotten what we do and the unique value we add? If not, why are we paying other agencies to do our job?

Over the last decade, more and more agencies have jumped on the trend of switching up their agency model to reflect something more akin to an ad agency, with individuals and teams focusing on different specialisms, like strategy, creative or client services, and only a handful of dedicated media relations specialists.

I can understand why. Media relations is hard, filling a room for a press day is hugely challenging and, with the media landscape so rapidly changing, the nervous wait for coverage to appear is getting, well, more nerve-wracking.

But it’s also our magic; our superpower; what we do! Is moving away from this genuinely adding value to the PR team’s function or is it just smoke and mirrors, or an attempt to protect inflated agency fees?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a solid strategy, I’ll never tire of the thrill I get when we crack the creative and I’m incredibly proud of my client relationships track record, but… the proof is in the pudding, and strategy and creative mean nothing without quality execution and the right earned coverage that takes the story to your audience. 

We need to stop trying to be someone else and be proud and (just the right amount of) protective about what we do.

If not, as this shift percolates deeper and deeper into our industry, the identity crisis slowly but surely intensifies the skills shortage among so many junior PRs, who are out of touch with earned media and how to truly ‘make friends and influence people’. This skill for making strong media connections is essential for the future of our industry.

As a mum of three who knows all about imposter syndrome, we need to regain the confidence to be PRs first and foremost. Take the time to teach junior teams how to “sell in”, show them the value of great connections, as well as attention-grabbing creative, and let’s place more importance on the thrill of securing kick-ass coverage than just talking about it. We can leave that up to the ‘mad men’. 

Long live the generalist! And long live PR!