PR Agency Search: Priorities in a PR Expanded World

A Guest Post by Simon Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatchTM

Almost four in 10 respondents to a survey of corporate communications, marketing and industry leaders for CommunicationsMatch’s new PR and Communications Agency Search Report said they were looking to hire new agencies in 2017.  That’s a lot of new agencies being hired, but it also means other agencies will be dropped.

The report shows the primary reason for engaging agencies was not dissatisfaction with existing firms, but a need for new capabilities.  The skillsets most in demand were digital, social and video – no surprise, given the shift the industry has gone through over the last decade from a traditional PR to a PR Expanded world.

PR Agency Search PrioritiesThe answers to a question about what is important to companies when it comes to engaging agencies is also telling.  Creativity, multi-disciplinary/integrated communications, reputation and specialized expertise were priorities in agency search.  Content and social media capabilities followed close behind.

These priorities tell us a lot about the way communications has evolved and the challenges businesses face in differentiating themselves in the crowded cacophony of the digital world.  As a former head of CorpComm functions at Fortune 100 financial institutions, these priorities resonate for a number of reasons.

First, let’s discuss creativity.  There’s no doubt that companies value thinking differently or outside the box because it is the secret sauce of differentiation.  In an increasingly competitive digital marketplace, the ability to stand out requires new ideas and approaches.  Simply put, doing what everyone else is doing just doesn’t cut it.  Digital communications capabilities are important – but are table stakes.  Creative brains and digital brawn are a winning combination.

It’s no surprise that multi-disciplinary, integrated communications capabilities are a priority for companies.  A few years ago, in a former corporate role, the focus was on 360-degree marketing with the goal of reaching specific audiences through discrete channels.  Over time, these channels have become increasingly blurred with success coming from outreach across the multiple platforms where audiences are interacting, e.g. we reach journalists through emailed press releases, Social Media, websites, and newsrooms.  The value companies place on integration lies in the ability to maximize the impact of initiatives through the mutual reinforcement of messages across channels.

Lastly, the expectation is agencies have social media capabilities.  It’s a “Who Moved My Cheese,” moment.  The cheese has moved, it’s what clients expect, and we have had to move with it or lose relevancy.

What do these priorities mean for the importance of public relations as a discipline?  Surely, if the focus is on integrated and multi-disciplinary skills, public relations may be becoming less important?

Communication Disciplines for Business Success

In fact, the opposite is true.  In the survey, public relations was considered the most important communications discipline to business success.  Let me say that again.  PR was considered most important to business success.

Digital marketing and social media closely followed in the rankings of importance, with traditional marketing next.  Lowest ranked were digital and traditional advertising.  No doubt, the perception of traditional advertising would have been different a decade ago.

PR’s primacy is clearly good news for practitioners, but not a reason to rest on their laurels.

In the Agency Search Report, we argue the importance of PR reflects the continued evolution of what public relations means in the minds of clients.  It’s seen as far more than media relations.   The function encompasses the range of capabilities required for successful communications campaigns and approaches.  Again, it’s all about PR Expanded.

But PR’s primacy also reflects a fundamental truth that has not changed since the founding of the discipline in Edward Bernays’ and Ivy Lee’s time.  Media coverage mattered as much then as it does in a digital world.  The survey responses underscore its importance and benefits to driving awareness among target audiences, engagement, SEO and content marketing.


The Agency Search Report, which also focuses on how companies find PR and communications agencies, underscores the continued evolution and relevance of the profession.  I invite you to read it and share your perspective.

Simon LockeSimon Erskine Locke is Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM a global communications-focused matching search engine.  With 5,000 U.S. and International agencies and professionals listed, it is a go-to resource for businesses seeking communications services providers with expertise in areas including: public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography, and video.  Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior Corporate Communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.