PR agencies are beefing up their data services to keep consulting firms like Deloitte and Accenture from eating their lunch
- PR agencies are worried about consulting companies eating their lunch, just as they've been doing with ad agencies.
- PR firms traditionally relied on inaccurate measurement, so now they're adding data services to show their work actually delivers.
- Omnicom's FleishmanHillard is announcing a partnership with data marketplace Memo to provide clients with data like how many people read an article and for how long.
- Another PR giant, Edelman, is announcing a deal with software company Cision to apply digital ad-like measurement to earned media.
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Similar to ad agencies, PR agencies are threatened by consulting companies, so they're fighting back by stepping up their efforts to measure their work.
FleishmanHillard, which is part of the ad holding company giant Omnicom, today is announcing a partnership with data marketplace Memo to measure how earned media performs for clients.Memo gets article-specific data directly from prestige publishers like The Washington Post and Condé Nast that show how many people viewed an article and how long they spent with it. Memo says it's in contract with other major PR agencies to provide this data.
Another PR giant, Edelman, is announcing today a deal with software company Cision to boost its performance-focused services. Dustin Johnson, head of US transformation and innovation at Edelman, said clients will get access to data from programmatic ad sales company MediaMath that shows how many actual people read an article and what their demographic makeup is - the same kind of data an advertiser would get if they ran a paid ad campaign.
The PR landscape is about to get more competitive
Behind these two announcements is a realization that life is getting more competitive for traditional PR agencies, and it's about to get tougher for their core business, earned media. Some of the key reasons:
- The PR industry has grown as companies face intensified pressure to take a stance on social issues and with the rise of digital media outlets giving companies new outlets for exposure.
- At the same time, the rise of new entrants and advertising agencies trying to diversify their services by acquiring PR, marketing and creative firms have turned up the competition for traditional PR firms, according to a report on the industry by IBISWorld.
- Consulting firms like Deloitte and Accenture are encroaching on the advertising business, and some insiders believe a move into PR's bread and butter, earned media, can't be far behind.
- Traditionally, marketers have measure earned media, or articles that mentioned them, based on their potential audience rather than their actual reach. But the potential audience data is widely acknowledged to be highly inaccurate, which makes it hard for marketers to justify the expense of PR services to their CFOs.
- Marketers have social monitoring tools that measure the reach of earned media on social platforms like Facebook. But as Facebook's traffic to publishers has declined, those tools are telling less and less of the audience story, said Eddie Kim, the founder and CEO of Memo. "We're seeing Facebook traffic tank and search becoming more meaningful," Kim said. "Less than 10% of an article's views come from social media."
- Companies like Casper and Warby Parker that built themselves on social media by selling directly to consumers are entirely optimized around sales, so to get their business, PR agencies need to show their services can help lead to business outcomes.
PR agencies are betting on data to stay ahead
The hope for PR agencies is that bringing more transparency to their work will help them stay ahead of the curve.
"The hypothesis is, earned media and audiences connected to them are high, high value," Johnson said of Edelman's deal with Cision. "Marketers and salespeople care deeply about these audiences. The competitive set is the marketing services, the agencies, the consulting companies. That's where this elevates us, where earned media is much more connected to sales."Ephraim Cohen, general manager of FleishmanHillard in New York, said he's seeing more clients ask for earned media in requests for proposals and evaluate firms based on their earned media capabilities.
"Memo presents an opportunity to say, you've known for a while that the earned campaigns are some of the most valuable you can do; now you know exactly how valuable," he said. "Because you know the impact and true cost, you know how to invest in it. That's a business and game-changer. It's going to scare the hell out of a lot of people. We're an industry that's never had this level of accurate media measurement before."
It's unknown how greater transparency will impact PR budgets
In theory, the ability to get better performance data for earned media will lead marketers to spend more on PR, where spending growth has lagged that of marketing, Johnson said. "The hypothesis is, proving the value of media will unlock more spend," he said.
It's possible, of course, that the new data show that earned media in fact reaches a smaller audience than marketers previously thought. The hope for PR firms is that their clients always knew that but at least now they can keep spending on earned media with confidence that they know what it'll get them.
Kim's bet is that by using Memo's data, clients will be impressed by how much time people spend reading articles compared to their fly-by behavior on social media feeds.
"There's a risk it isn't as much as you wanted," Kim said. "But that's what's missing right now. The data will give substantially more credit to content than it currently gets. The downside is nominal compared to the upside."