Time for this dog to wag its own tail

Kevin Welman

For too long, public relations agencies have toiled surreptitiously, positioning our clients as role models, by pulling together resources, formulating new strategies, shaping and maintaining perceptions and assembling content for the right audience. We have spent years doing this for our clients, but it is time we started doing the same for ourselves.

Industry awards garner substantial coverage for agencies, they provide the opportunity to profile great work as well as the agency itself. Big industry awards, namely The Cannes Lions and The Loeries Awards, introduced Public Relations as a category in the last few years to emphasise the value of strategic communication and its critical role in brand management. To add to that, there has been significant development of the PRISM Awards locally, further highlighting the importance of our profession.

Although the awards foster a spirit of communication and enhance the caliber of communications strategies, there are areas of concern for PR agencies and divisions looking for recognition.

An increasing number of PR awards entries are being won by advertising agencies. In 2015, six Loeries PR awards were won by advertising agencies. I am not insinuating that advertising agencies do bad work, they don’t, and they should be encouraged to enter in their respective categories. However, public relations agencies need to start owning the PR industry.

Public relations professionals have traditionally held the view that their clients should be positioned as the hero and should receive all recognition for the work the PR agency has done for them. While it is a noble view, clients want agencies to win awards.

Gaining new clients or publicity, whether it be earned, owned or even shared, as a result of winning an award is an added bonus, but most certainly not the reason why public relations professionals should set out to enter awards.

I think that, to come out on top, PR agencies not only need to understand the current trends shaping the industry, they need to be authentic. They need to tell stories which speak to a real audience, and in turn, evoke emotion or action. The creation of content needs to be informed by insights which are driven from research. You cannot roll out a campaign if you don’t first understand why something is happening.

Supporting the reputation and perception of a brand, positioning it favourably in the eyes of the audience, should be done through the integration of various mediums and leveraging the ever-evolving technologies, platforms and channels. The key to success is using all of the above to come up with an idea that sticks – a ‘magnetic idea’ that is simple, unexpected, credible and emotional. An idea that tells a story.

We pride ourselves on being storytellers, delivering editorially relevant content and being proficient in communications, yet we continue to keep quiet. South African PR agencies have proven to lead the industry, so much so that for the first time ever the IPRA World Congress, a global event with the aim of developing open communication and the ethical practice of public relations, will take place in South Africa.

As public relations professionals, we need to start making a louder noise about our successes and stop letting others eat our lunch.