PR firms are coming out on top, Fred Cook, CEO of GolinHarris Worldwide, tells Communicate
In light of the worldwide crisis, how is PR faring globally?
From a PR perspective, we can do extremely well in a market despite its advertising trend. If you don’t feel you can advertise, it’s much more economically effective to do public relations.
The world is much more complicated than it used to be. Regardless of whether you are talking about shampoo, eggs or cars, there are issues associated with that and those issues change depending on the market place. The more complicated business is globally, the more opportunities there are for us to help deliver those messages.
How important is localization in PR?
It is more so than other marketing disciplines. You are dealing with people’s opinions and with social media today. You are having a conversation with those people about a topic or an issue.
In advertising you are sending a message, which can be customized to a particular market by changing the language or images. In [PR], you are sending and receiving; that is a more complex model. Therefore, you need to be effective locally to understand what these conversations are about.
The lines between advertising and PR are becoming blurry. How do you navigate?
This is absolutely true. Five years ago, we would compete against other PR agencies. Today, we compete against media, digital, special events and advertising firms.
It’s on us to be as good as they are in every aspect of communication. This is why a year and a half ago, we redesigned our agency from top to bottom and created the G4 model (see “Moving on”, Communicate June 2012 issue, page 36). It is a much more integrated model and we are specialist in all of its areas [strategy, connection, catalysts and creation] now. The primary reason we introduced [G4] is to be competitive with every agency.
How is the model doing?
It has been very successful so far. We saw improvement in work we’ve done for clients and in new businesses. We are also hiring new people in GolinHarris, which we have never done before – many are coming from advertising agencies: creative directors, strategists, researchers and even someone from the White House, who did research for President Obama. We are like a new company.
What will the future PR agency look like?
The future agency will look like GolinHarris.
Will you still call the future agency a PR one?
We have simply decided to redefine PR.
How do you define PR today?
PR covers any form of communication between a brand and a customer. This communication can be shared, earned, owned or paid. All types of media encompass PR. We started with owned media, now we do a lot of shared media (social media) and paid media (outdoor, print).
Most of our clients in the US do not want to work with a different agency for every channel. The heart of the G4 model is how to integrate that into one package. That is the future, being able to cover more bases for clients.
In the Middle East, PR was the activity clients did when they had a small budget. Why is this changing?
PR is growing much faster than advertising agencies, because clients see that’s where the action is. I have mentioned four types of media; owned, shared and earned media are more cost-effective than paid media. Today, those three yield more results. Even though paid media was traditionally where advertising lived, they are now moving to other types.
This is the golden age of PR, but we need to be bolder. I always use the example of Superman to describe the industry. PR has long been like the mild-mannered Clark Kent and we need to be more like Superman.
What is stopping PR from doing that?
In the past, it was not our job to be the people with the big idea. We were in the car, but we were not in the driver’s seat.
Now, we are in the driver’s seat, but we also have more responsibility. We have to have the bigger ideas and the bigger campaigns and more people who are willing to create and deliver them. That’s why we are hiring all kinds of new people. We know that our ideas are as good as any other advertising agency, but we need to prove that to our clients.
Do you think PR agencies with less boldness will miss out?
Any time there’s an opportunity, there’s a window for it, and you have to take it. We were the first company in the world to redesign our agency from the ground up, based on what was happening around us. The entire communication world was changing dramatically and none of the agencies were changing at all. The G4 model was our attempt to stay ahead of the game.