How to survive in the digital world

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Jim Hawker
Jim Hawker

This is an article by Jim Hawker.   

This is a very exciting time to be thinking about entering the PR industry.

In my own career over almost twenty years I have seen so much change, all of it driven by technology. When I first started working agency side, it would take us a few days to organise writing and distributing paper-based press releases.

I have probably lived my PR career through more change than most generations experience and the pace of change doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.

I started my own PR agency in 2004, the same year that Facebook started. Twitter hadn’t even been launched.

We have had to adapt the ways we are working to meet changing consumer and business consumption of information and enable our clients to remain relevant in their own communications programmes.

The next generation of PR professionals will join an industry that I wouldn’t have recognised 19 years ago.

The falling influence of traditional media, the rise of branded content and direct interaction between brands and consumers has levelled the playing field and the boundaries that separated PR from other disciplines have been eroded away.

PR agencies are now competing for client attention and budget against advertising agencies and digital marketing agencies.

Many senior PR spokespeople continue to talk about how PR has a right to own social media because only PR people know how to create a two way dialogue with external audiences on behalf of brands.

Personally I think this is nonsense. I have seen some superb work carried out by advertising and digital agencies in social media.

The reality is that clients don’t care where the ideas come from and more often than not, the influence of the PR person on the client side is continuing to wane.

To survive in the digital world, we need to embrace new skills.

PR used to be seen as one of the most cost effective communications channels but because of the minimal investment required, versus other channels, it has always struggled for attention. That situation is changing very quickly.

To create impactful PR campaigns in the digital world, we need not just clever thinking but also great content and paid-for media techniques to get the content seen.

We also have the ability to prove the ROI on the content we are creating but the challenge is that we need the skills within the agency and the extra budget that PR budget holders on the client side do not hold.

Increasingly we are working better with clients when we report into Marketing Directors and not PR managers as Chief Marketing Officers tend to have a more holistic view of the marketing channels and are able to access the additional budgets we require to run PR programmes in a digitally integrated way.

How are PR agencies responding to these challenges? Slowly in my opinion.

I merged my PR agency two years ago with a digital marketing agency so that we could compete better in this new world.


Are we a PR agency any more? I honestly don’t know and that’s because the scope of our work is incredibly broad and more often than not is now integrated across multiple channels.

This same pressure of knowing how to present yourself as an agency to a client is felt not just in PR circles but also in advertising land.

All agencies are trying to appear as broad as possible so that they don’t lose any potential income from marketing directors who don’t really care what you are called, but what you can do.

So, if you are looking for a job in this new world then good luck.

In the past you may have just picked up a copy of PR Week and looked at the top performing agencies.

Now you need to do your homework and have a good look at the kind of work that the agency is producing and decide for yourself whether this is an agency you believe creates impactful campaigns and will continue to survive in this crazy world you are about to join.

Jim Hawker started Three Pipe back in 2004
Jim Hawker co-founded Threepipe back in 2004. Is it still a PR agency today?