The Next Great PR Firm

What will be the next great, innovative PR firm?

I wrote this question in a note in my iPhone late one night last week. For those who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a nerd, and yes, these are the things I think about. Primarily, I posed this question to myself as part of my job at PRSA, which includes advocating the business value of PR. But I also ask it because I’m genuinely interested in finding the answer.

Who among my generation of PR pros — those old enough to remember Bacon’s before it became Cision but young enough that our entire careers have evolved online — will create the next great PR firm? The next Edelman or Burson-Marsteller or SHIFT Communications. The type of PR firm that comes to define a generation within the industry and advances the business of PR well beyond the status quo.

To me, this is a fascinating question and concept.

I also think it’s worth exploring because PR is at an absolutely fascinating point in its history. Never before has our profession grown so fast or received so much recognition for its distinct business value and ability to grow businesses.

When you have the CEO of one of the world’s largest ad holding firms say that “PR leaders are just as critical as CMOs” and that it’s time for advertising to take a back seat to PR, as Miles Nadal of MDC Partners did in a PRWeek op-ed published in October, you know the pendulum has finally swung fully over in PR’s favor. No longer are we the little brother of advertising and marketing, just hoping to scoop up some of the leftovers of an ad firm’s AOR announcement.

So which rising firms are leading the charge on this front? And what are we, as an industry, doing to take advantage of this shift in momentum? We won’t allow it to pass us by … will we?

Certainly, firms like MDC’s own Attention, which adeptly combines components of a digital, marketing, PR and advertising firm into one holistic client offering, is a great example of the modern PR firm in a box.

Others I admire, that truly seem to “get” modern PR, include (in no particular order, and apologies to those I know but have left off this list): Crenshaw Communications, Airfoil, Text 100, Zeno Group, Kwittken & Co., SparkPR, and of course, SHIFT Communications, which I mentioned earlier.

What other firms am I missing? What great, innovative, modern PR firms are just starting to bubble up? And what should the PR industry be doing to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among its practitioners? That last question fascinates me, so I’m interested in hearing your ideas.

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  • Great post. For me the next great PR firm the one that can deliver what it promises for the fees it charges. I’ve been invited to several new business pitches recently and, unfortunately, the majority of potential clients I’m meeting have been burned by firms that overpromised and underdelivered. Sadly, many of these firms are based out of New York City. In my 14 years in Manhattan, I’ve personally seen this happen. I’m not saying all PR firms do this, but in the pursuit of winning business, at times, it is forgotten whether the potential client is truly ready to roll out a a strategic PR and social media program. Please don’t get me wrong. These potential clients I met understand the value of what PR brings that’s why they are looking for another firm. They are just wondering if $10k/month that most of them were paying was worth it. Obviously, this could very well be another blog post altogether… (sorry for typos, posted using iPhone)

    • I agree. Big firms are overcharging and underdelivering…I’ve experienced that first hand. It appears as if they put more effort into generating an invoice than securing placement. 

    • Kellee

      I agree, Joe. Being based in Chicago with clients across the country I have learned that often clients want to know that you are thinking about their needs in a phased approach, sometimes baby steps to get them to a fully integrated program that is 10k+/mo. When this happens, the relationship becomes a true partnership, not a transactional one. And you can watch the annual contract get renewed the next year and the next one…

      Kellee Johnson
      Principal, The Ballast Group

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