The days of the roster are numbered. Clients previously had no
choice but to turn to specialists for their advertising, media
relations, direct mail, event management, media buying, design, research
or sponsorship needs. But they are now slimming their rosters, and PR
agencies are grabbing a fair share of the work.
'Viewing PR through the narrow filter of media relations does not serve
clients' best interests. The 'influencer' audience is critical, yet
agencies typically equate 'influencer' with 'journalist' and leave it at
that,' says Rebecca George, head of August. One Connect UK.
'Key influencers such as analysts, government, industry groups,
academics and even employees are better reached through specific
communications aimed directly at them.'
And PR companies, it seems, are well-placed to offer such a broader
GBC board director Neil Vose says: 'Progressive PR companies should
always be looking to develop bespoke solutions for clients. People
shouldn't be surprised that PR agencies offer marketing services - they
always have done - it's just that there has been a lack of appreciation
The internet has had a major influence on the growing perception of PR
as a medium that can reach target audiences directly and often
'The dotcoms are up for anything, which means we have been able to
explore new channels away from media relations. It's all up for grabs,
provided you are clear about what you are offering,' says Band & Brown
chief executive Nick Band.
The speed with which new media companies are born and sold has also been
a factor in the new ways PR agencies are being used.
Adapting to client needs
'Diversification has been driven by the need to support clients through
shorter product or service lifecycles, from the initial idea to IPO or
trade sale,' says Jonathan Simnett, vice-chairman of technology
specialist Brodeur Worldwide.
'In the fast-moving technology sector, PR agencies can offer a range of
services that deliver consistent messages to target audiences - whatever
the marketing instrument used.'
Viral marketing, which can involve spreading news online via chat rooms,
or e-mails being forwarded to friends, is a strategy being embraced by
many PR companies. Charlton Communications is one agency that has made
the most of the internet by creating a new division, called 1000
This provides an uber-focus group of 1000 people across the country, all
with internet access, who undertake viral marketing campaigns, acting as
mouthpieces to spread the word about a company in chat rooms, online
forums and newsgroups.
The client area most suited to viral marketing is, naturally, online
brands. Marketing portal Hitsnclicks.com uses Charlton for media
relations, but also used 1000 Heads in its pre-testing stage. On the day
of its launch, it had nearly 51,000 hits as a result.
'Using viral marketing has been more effective than pure media
relations, as it gave us feedback from people from different regions and
backgrounds before we launched,' says Hitsnclicks chief executive Fraser
Learning new techniques
Band & Brown is also a big user of viral, guerrilla and ambient
marketing techniques for clients. It has branded eggs, apples, ATMs and
manhole covers in Camden for Uprush, a street culture web site.
It also created a campaign for BT Payphones to find the country's top
football mastermind through games consoles in phone boxes, linked to web
chats with Alan Hansen, the football commentator, and a viral e-mail
Away from the new media, other PR agencies are becoming specialists in
older marketing areas such as field marketing. Elizabeth Hindmarch PR,
for example, carries out sampling campaigns for clients including
The agency invented a 'heat squad' comprised of lads and girls who
gate-crashed beaches, pop concerts and festivals. As well as handing out
the product, the agency put together a 'Beach Cred Bible' packed with
information about tanning, sun and holidays.
Many PR agencies now also have some design capability. One, CIT
Productions, produces and prints a pseudo-independent trade publication
for the high-tech data storage sector on behalf of Adaptive.
PR shops are also in a position to offer consultancy on areas such as
corporate branding and positioning, crisis management and change
management, which might once have been the preserve of an advertising
agency or management consultants.
'Advertising used to be at the heart of clients' business and was
critical in shaping strategic marketing and communications,' says
Edelman chief executive Tari Hibbett.
'Somewhere along the line the industry dropped its guard and the PR
agencies got in there. I can't imagine any communications area other
than advertising creative that we wouldn't cover - from sponsorships to
Frank PR was set up six months ago to offer a broad portfolio of
marketing services. The tools it has introduced include 'Executive
Profile', which manages the media profile of businesspeople, and
Frankviews, which takes focus groups a step further, by gaining the
thoughts of a panel of hard-to-reach opinion-formers on new products and
Frank PR joint managing director Andrew Bloch says: 'It is ever more
difficult to draw a line at which PR finishes, and clients are often
looking for a one-stop shop.'
Having a number of marketing functions under one roof does not
necessarily mean cost benefits for the client. But that is rarely the
point. They may even start spending more on PR when they start to see
what it can achieve and how broad its scope can be.
Integrating communications channels under one roof can also make it
easier for the agency concerned to be involved at an early stage, and
have useful input into shaping strategy and creativity.
When Frank PR worked on Ams-trad's 'Get Britain E-mailing' brand
platform, it was involved from the product development stage. As well as
media relations, the campaign included installing Amstrad 'e-mailers' in
unusual locations, such as pubs and fish and chip shops.
Clients are often more than happy for a PR agency to come up with ideas
for and handle work that might not be considered as core PR.
Hair product manufacturer Wella, for example, was delighted when
Elizabeth Hindmarch PR came up with the idea of producing snappy 'The
Next Big Thing' trend guides to the hairstyles used by fashion designers
at the seasonal catwalk shows. The agency also secured Wella the title
of overall sponsor of the Elle Style Awards.
'It helped position us as part of the fashion industry,' says corporate
communications manager Kevin Arkell.
'No one had ever taken an overarching view of our corporate messages
before to ensure the positioning of the brand was consistent.'
PR consultancies are sometimes taken on to deliver a traditional PR
campaign, but have their remit expanded once the client discovers it has
Target Public Relations is part of the Target group of marketing
companies. Some clients use the company purely for consumer or corporate
PR; others may also need media planning and buying, or web design, which
Target offers through its sister companies.
CCA Stationery, one of the UK's biggest suppliers of wedding stationery
and personalised Christmas cards, hired Target Public Relations six
months ago to carry out its PR, then found it could use its sister
companies to work on its press ads and design brochures.
'We were originally looking to bring in specialists in each area, but
Target showed it was able to be a specialist on both sides. The approach
gives the campaign synergy, and I expect it will come up with something
greater than two separate agencies,' says CCA Stationery's marketing
manager, Carolyn Stanley.
Target Public Relations director Sheena Brand says: 'If they just want
PR, great, but internally, even if clients don't officially buy into
those services, we can still use that expertise. We do make clients
aware of the skills we have, and it's great if we can work on an
Even though she presides over the biggest independent consultancy in the
UK, Edelman's Hibbitt stresses that an agency doesn't have to be part of
a huge global network, or even be big in its own right, to offer a broad
'Smaller companies can still offer broader services if they get into
partnerships with other suppliers. You might not have design or online
expertise, but you can work with others to offer a strategic approach,'
PR agencies are not all about to turn into multidisciplinary marketing
agencies, since they, and their clients, still recognise the value of
having specialist agencies in some areas, but many now offer a much
broader range of services than might be thought of 'traditional'
ROBOT WARS TOY PROMOTION
Last year, the BBC handed the licence to sell a toy range based on its
Robot Wars programme to Logistix Kids Retail, a brand marketing
consultancy that expanded into retailing in 1996.
The show, in which remote-control robots fight each other, is aimed at
nine- to 15-year-olds, but also enjoys a cult adult following.
Logistix was briefed to raise awareness of the toys from March.
PR agency Charlton Communications was handed a limited budget to promote
the products to the media, but mainly to the core target audience.
The agency ran a viral marketing campaign using teaser tactics with the
media and fans, who it reached through the BBC's Robot Wars web site and
the official fan club.
Tactics included posting online and in the club magazine grainy
black-and-white shots of an apparently secret Robot Wars factory being
Rumours were started in relevant chat rooms about the construction of
'We couldn't afford an ad campaign, but we needed to market the product
effectively. We didn't want press releases being sent out - straight
media relations wouldn't have done the job. Charlton used the internet
very cleverly to great effect,' says Victoria Myers, head of retail at
Demand - despite a Christmas period that saw stores sell out of the toys
after shifting pounds 2.5m worth - remains strong, and there was a
positive knock-on effect for Logistix, too.
'The campaign helped us to get noticed - we can now go to licensing
agencies and show them they don't have to go to the biggest toy
companies to have a product marketed well,' says Myers.
Charlton will produce more work for the brand this year.