Fragmented media landscape changes what clients expect from PR agencies

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Nowadays, there’s a lot being asked of public relations agencies. The root cause: clients expect more than just press coverage, according to PR pros. In response, some agencies are expanding their services beyond earned media in an effort to keep up with client demand and maintain a competitive edge during economic uncertainty. 

As the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented, communication experts say clients are more frequently asking their PR partners for everything from viral TikTok strategies to branded editorial content. The economic uncertainty, too, has put additional pressure on these agencies to expand their services and, hopefully, garner a bigger market share, experts say.

“If you’re able to offer a wide range of services that you can sell to your clients, that really is helping us get through the bumpy economy,” said David Parkinson, co-founder and CEO of Method Communications. “You have to have an agency that covers all of that now.”

Method has worked with the likes of Meta, personal finance brand Quicken and Over the last few months, the communications firm has brought on new, varied talent, including a content editor, designer and marketing manager, to extend its capabilities beyond earned media.

Out of the agency’s 100-person, full-time staff, 25 are now pure marketing people, per Parkinson. This year, 25% of Method’s revenue is predicted to come from marketing services alone, up from an estimated 10% in years prior, Parkinson added. (He did not disclose exact figures.) In fact, 59% of agency pros said in a Digiday+ Research survey that their agencies increased the number of services they offered last year.

Meanwhile, last fall, global PR and communications agency Sling & Stone’s U.S.-based branch launched a new service geared toward early stage startups, offering more flexible contract terms to better suit changing client needs. The new early stage startup-focused service retainer fee starts between $7,000 and $7,500 per month, compared with the fee for later stage clients, which starts at $12,000 per month, according to Erin Grant, evp at Sling & Stone US. In other words, going with Sling & Stone’s new service could theoretically save a startup a few bucks. 

“When I started in PR, it was print publications and magazine placements and that was the shining light of success,” Grant said. “As we’ve continued to evolve and become more digital, that’s naturally changing the way in which we’re thinking about how PR is.”

Recently, communications agency UManagement has changed its strategy to become more focused on social media as opposed to traditional publications, according to Milan Mobley, CEO of UManagement Strategic Communications and Public Relations Agency in Atlanta.

“Where we will always and I mean always love our journalist and media outlets, to drive immediate traffic for our clients and sales thought, it looks like their online appearance is key and again the trends we must follow,” Mobley said in an emailed statement to Digiday.

Ten years ago, U.K. and U.S.-based SEEN Group saw the writing on the wall, building up its services beyond communications to include things like creative services, content creation and brand experience. But over the last three years, the agency has seen an uptick in client inbound requests for varied services. With the boom of influencer marketing, namely micro- and nano-influencers, the agency is set to launch yet another capability in the U.S. in June: Connecting clients with nano beauty creators across social media. SEEN’s U.S. clients include beauty brands like Byredo, L’Oréal Professionnel and Dove.

This is all to say that PR is no longer a one-trick pony, according to one publicist who spoke anonymously with Digiday, noting that communications firms are being asked to fire on all cylinders to keep up with client media coverage expectations.

In today’s fast-paced and fragmented digital landscape, media exists everywhere from print publications and television to social media and brand-owned channels. Therefore, clients expect more out of their PR agency partners, and are looking for more flexibility in an ever-changing digital landscape, including, sometimes, to go viral. Meanwhile, the agencies themselves have been working to convince clients of the value of a slow brand build that lasts, with a focus on building brand ambassadors over one-time shoppers. 

As economic uncertainty looms over the industry and marketing budgets come under more scrutiny than ever before, agency experts say clients are increasingly asking for all services to be under one roof.

“The biggest factor is they want one consistent partner that’s going to lead the brand narrative and storytelling,” said Melissa Sansone, managing director of SEEN’s U.S. branch. “If they can do it all in one place with an established team, they’re able to justify the spend.”

Seemingly, the expansion of an agency’s capabilities is a growing trend in the communications field that could mean changes to how PR as a whole functions from this point on. In the future, PR agencies may be challenged to reconsider what success looks like in a broader media landscape and diversifying storytelling channels, per Grant. 

“In order for PR to do well, you need a bunch of different things going or you’re throwing all your eggs into one basket and this goes with any marketing channel,” she said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated retainer fees for Sling & Stone’s U.S.-based branch’s later stage clients. Retainer fees for Sling & Stone’s U.S.-based branch’s later stage clients start at $12,000 per month. The story has been updated to reflect as much.

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