The future of PR: Adapt, or be left behind

Organizations that are ready to restructure their business models might want to rethink how they charge clients. Here’s what one pro advises.

Many PR pros are familiar with the “client request.”

A decade ago, I spoke with a colleague about that very thing. The request was for a specific high-level government cabinet official to speak at their summit conference. My colleague asked the client what it would be worth to them if he could deliver, and the client blurted out, “$50,000 in fees.”

Although this practice was frowned upon in the PR industry at that time, my colleague agreed to the terms. What the client did not know was that my colleague knew this person rather well and tapped into that relationship. He got $50,000 for about a five-minute call. Clearly he got paid for value, rather than billable hours, which is the most prevalent model today for PR agencies.

Data from a recent USC Annenberg study show that a value-based billing model, which focuses on business outcomes rather than hours of outputs, will eventually be preferred—especially on the client side. RELATED: How to eliminate corporate jargon and drive business performance with improved communications techniques.

Data identified emerging trends in global communications, changes and challenges that organizations will face as they prepare for the future. To ensure success, pros must rethink major tenets of the traditional PR industry—flexibility of senior leaders and an educational rewind for less experienced executives.

Here are a few other predictions from the study:

In communications

Although writing and verbal communications are more valued than analytics, research and SEO, study results suggest a greater emphasis on critical thinking.

Critical thinking from all professionals—not only senior positons—is predicted to be the most valued skill of all. Education must shift to prepare students entering the industry to combine their evaluation skills with problem solving. As this new value will affect business outcomes and client fees, agencies will have to learn to bill accordingly.

In an agency setting

As an agency head, I was keenly aware that the future of PR would be driven by content creation and social media—as well as increased use of paid media coverage.

The study underscores this, but it adds that more traditional activities—such as brand reputation—changed measurement and evaluation models.

Agency leaders must seek and develop talents that can create more strategic content that’s geared to outcomes. It’s not just about “being out there” as much as possible anymore.

Education will play a key role.

What must change

Traditional PR agencies’ earned media coverage must become a balanced blend of shared coverage and paid advertisements. Although most PR agencies have delved deeper into that model, it’s predicted that by 2020 almost 65 percent of all media outlets will offer paid placement opportunities.

Corporations will rely more on their agencies than they do today. Strategic insight will be valued and needed more than ever.

Agency leaders should restructure their business models, gear billing more toward value and train young professionals to be responsible for adding value to client accounts.

Expectations will be more demanding, but the industry will see a more satisfied workforce as it embraces a greater responsibility.

The PR industry is palpably ready for change. We should be ready to prepare our clients.

Noemi Pollack is a 30-year PR veteran and CEO of The Pollack PR Marketing Group .

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