Editorial media have won. It's hard to get people to talk about advertising these days; we're much more concerned about what people are saying on Twitter - and while the ad industry and the likes of Mark Zuckerberg debate what to do, the constant tide of editorial conversations continues to evolve.
We know this because we represent as many media brands, from food bloggers to national newspapers, as we do consumer brands. We now live in a world where the boundary between journalists and consumers is blurred.
It is increasingly hard to know who influences whom. What we do know is that they are constantly talking, recommending, criticising and complaining.
Unfortunately, this 'always on' environment doesn't neatly map against a brand's planning calendar.
Current research from PRWeek indicates that the average PR agency/client relationship lasts 11 months, but brands lose out with this inconsistent approach to editorial conversations. Bloggers and editors won't take a break while brands hold a pitch process and bed in their new agency.
Brands and organisations that recognise they are involved in an ongoing conversation with consumers, stakeholders, pressure groups, critics and employees are aware that they need an A team of communication experts, constantly 'on' and fully immersed.
Does this mean all brands should have long-term retainers? Definitely not - this breeds complacency, and we believe that you're only as good as your last idea. Any agency prefers retainers, but in this market, agencies should expect to be judged on a project-by-project basis. Personally, this doesn't bother me. We've never lost a client to another agency.
These days, all communications agencies, big and small, will provide all the standard services, and all agencies should be able to connect to a broad range of conversations swirling around a brand; specialists are a rare breed.
We're finding that clients are not hiring agencies based particularly on specific skills, but more on a creative approach to sparking, engaging or ending certain editorial conversations that are going on. And they often need a variation of creative talent. That's where the project-by-project, semi-retained relationship can be more beneficial.
It's a new future of agency/client relationship - roster 2.0, if you like.
Borrowing from contemporary football, it is a squad-like system, where clients (and procurement departments) would rather have a tight team of agencies, which are constantly engaged, but sometimes on the 'bench'. This team should be experienced in working with the brand, but constantly challenged with project work to ensure creativity remains fresh. This can work for agencies if they know the roster is small, and they can realistically make their own financial plans and therefore invest in building the relationship and committing resources.
So what works best for brands? More 'on', less chopping and changing, more collaboration and integration. And more understanding of the fact that people are talking about the brand, the organisation, and in some instances even the management team, all the time, every day.
At W Communications, we harness these conversations to influence the wider media eco system for our clients - whether it's capturing the power of Twitter to create a multimillion-pound restaurant brand for MEATliquor, or leveraging rolling broadcast news to successfully launch the first national print newspaper in 25 years for The Independent's i (a feat many said couldn't be achieved.)
Each brand has it's own unique earned-media eco system. The only rule is that you must be constantly engaged with it. The right team, or teams, around you, all the time, can positively influence your marketing impact. Just don't wait until crisis hits to engage earned media ...
W Communications' work for the MEATliquor launch has been nominated in the Best Small Agency and Best Culture, Media and Sport Campaign categories for this year's PRWeek Awards.
Just three years old, the agency represents the best and most exciting media and brand clients in the UK and globally, from The London Evening Standard and The Independent to Hendrick's Gin and Visit Sweden.