7 mistakes made by PR agencies looking to “do digital” better

I turn 30 today and at the same time move on from the fun of starting up, a digital communications agency, to joining Brando / EdC to help drive their digital innovation. So it seemed an apt day to review a little of what I have learned from my times working in large network based agencies and from starting up a more boutique agency. These are the common mistakes I see made by PR agencies looking to “do digital” better.

Disconnection between PRs & digital specialists – meaning client briefs that may or may not involve social media solutions are poorly interpreted by PRs so delivered to digital specialists in such a form that opportunities have been lost for both meaningful work and meaningful profit.

Inability to attribute precisely – wooly digital KPIs agreed with clients, because of a lack of confidence and experience with the range of possible digital outcomes and attribution models internally. Resulting in client and agency working too hard chasing the wrong things.

Lack of star quality in community management – clients believe community management is cheap and easy, thus they brief it out to agencies, but it proves almost impossible to turn a decent profit on for the agency. The only ways to increase this profit margin are to turn away community management work or demonstrate why you are charging a premium for it. To do this you need a star person, famous for running hugely successful communities or forums to wheel in front of clients and oversee any community management work at a premium price point.

Digital leadership at board level – junior employees are not naive about how companies work. They realise the significance of being called a Managing Partner, Managing Director or Director and they see who disappears for board meetings. They trust they are being represented- if digital specialists- or that digital expertise is being taken seriously by such subtle dynamics, not because of mission statements about “digital being central”

Data and presentation of it – clients cannot see the hours spent researching before something is presented about their audience, it’s social media habits, online journey or the proposed digital strategy etc, all they can see is the presentation about it. The client can go online and check out YouTube videos of Hans Roslings data visualisation work or JESS3s infographics and so the bar is constantly set by outside forces. Thus, day by day the PR agency must win over the client by taking the final way of presenting data and ideas compellingly just as seriously as anyone else, not just in the industry but outside of it.

Weak digital design and build capability from social media pages, to sites, to apps – If you haven’t got the resource to do this, you can’t compete in the PR big game anymore. Unless you have an almost symbiotic blood-brothers relationship with an agency that only offers this. Even if this relationship becomes weak, fraught or mistrusting, watch the quality of work, ambition of work and profits evaporate bit by bit.

Great people make great agencies – it only takes one person to be outstanding at one aspect of the digital conmunications skill set to start building agency specialisms. But not enough digital-ready PR agencies are investing in truly high level training or self- development time in online data analysis, developing digital attribution models, future of connected TV etc for key interested staff in order to bring them forward. They think “well staff leave”, but that is wrongheaded. One member of staffs key knowledge area has ripple effects and before you know it it has become the organisations collective knowledge and expertise.


2 thoughts on “7 mistakes made by PR agencies looking to “do digital” better

  1. You are not wrong. The biggest barrier is the old legacy PR business. Its existing clients and staff can be part of the problem blocking innovation.

    Tradition PR accounts are still delivering huge
    fees so the people looking after those accounts are the stars of their agency. There is nothing wrong with that of course, but someone needs to fly the flag for innovation too.

    I started my own PR agency so I could start from scratch. So far, so good.

  2. Pingback: 10 mistakes made by agencies looking to ‘do digital’ better « My Head Revisited

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