November 29, 2016 / by Jeff Barrett

2017 is ripe with optimism for PR and for good reason. Donald Trump won an election using PR versus advertising. Social media created new opportunities for PR to leverage and coordinate paid, earned and owned media. Meanwhile, the accessibility of brands has necessitated better corporate social responsibility.

I went to school for advertising. Because of my aptitude for social media I opted to work in PR. It shows you where the world is going. And it also gives me an opportunity to dust off something from college – the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

If you’re a big agency, you’re in great shape. But no industry is without threats or weaknesses. Here’s what big agencies should keep in mind as the new year approaches:


Big companies are always going to need big agencies. I know my small agency is not the right one for Coca-Cola. They need multiple layers. They need full service. They need the connections and relationships and sway that exist at the top of a big agency.

Plus as the functions of PR expand, big companies will look to major agencies for guidance, because most of today’s large PR agencies are able to provide much greater value than ever before. In fact, they often act like ad agencies, providing social and digital services, among others, which helps ensure their offering extends far beyond the scope of traditional PR. They’re also doing much more in house, with many positioning themselves as one-stop shops capable of helping their clients meet a much wider range of communication needs. Large agencies in particular have become adept at working across paid, owned, and earned channels and finding innovative ways to provide value across each.


It’s hard to find fault with agencies that generate nearly $1B. I may sound crazy for even saying it, but there are plenty of weaknesses. Nothing that can’t be corrected but something to certainly be aware of that large agency level.

Mid- and lower-level clients of big agencies are underserved. How? They sign up with a large agency because they think that agency has the best relationships. They’re not wrong to make that assumption. But the problem is that at this level you don’t get the A-Team. You get a well-meaning, hard-trying junior account executive that’s fresh out of college. Maybe they get things done, maybe they don’t. The problem is that at this level there is a lot of variance.

What happens after a few months is these clients jump ship to mid-level and smaller agencies that make them more of a priority. And I get it, that’s part of the circle of media. That’s been happening for ages. But why accept that as a large agency?

Large agencies should diversify their offerings and specialize their services. When you go to get sunglasses or cereal or a healthcare product, you choose between many brands – even though they are ultimately all owned by the same parent company: Luxottica, General Mills or P&G.

Branding is important. If I’m a restaurateur or tech company, I want to know that I’m dealing with someone who has a laser focus and will make me feel more comfortable to keep my business with the large agency.

This is already done to a small extent and should be focused on more in 2017 – either through acquisition of existing firms or rebranding of internal divisions.

The benefit is simple. The more focused and targeted you can be in this digital world, the more confidence you will project to brand clients. The size of the agency and the address used to matter. But increasingly brands are looking to be understood by like-minded agencies who live what they do. It takes some brief introspection but the payoff is huge.


Influencers. I bang on this drum all day but if PR is not careful, it will lose this fight to advertising or influencer agencies. Being able to monetize the purchasing influence of millions of small micro-targeted influencers in subgroups could be the greatest new business PR has ever seen. PR could facilitate and control media buying and a good chunk of advertising just by being the best at connecting brands with the right people.

But first PR has to get better at identifying the right people, create better tools to connect them and use technology to drive this approach. If you can find an influencer as easily as you find a waiver wire pickup for your fantasy football team or the perfect Cyber Monday deal, you’ll be more likely to use it.

This is where we are heading. Just like it seems inevitable that people will cut the cord on television and opt for streaming, companies will look to have friends influence friends rather than purchasing ads that inconveniently break during a live broadcast of The Big Bang Theory.

The greatest opportunity for PR is to take a step back and recognize where the world is heading, where consumer habits are heading and be the first to create the best relationships and solutions.


The way we generally go about locating media is fundamentally wrong. The press release isn’t dead. It’s a useful tool but you have to supplement it with something to be successful.

You wouldn’t sell someone a washer and dryer by giving them the owner’s manual. It’s useful information, but it’s not a sales tool. But that’s what’s being done.

I get 100+ emails a day from great, amazing, talented PR people I know all over the world. Once in awhile things stand out but for the most part it’s redundant. As a warier, I gravitate toward relationships and being able to help people I know or people who know what I like to write about most.

PR could fail someday by not creating more meaningful relationships. After all, that’s the business we are in, relationships. And there’s no one better at it than us. We should play to our strengths.

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About Jeff Barrett

Jeff Barrett is 2015’s Best Business Blogger (Shorty Awards), one of the 50 most influential people on social media (Forbes), the #1 Ad Executive on Twitter (Business Insider) and dances like Drake. Find him on Twitter @BarrettAll.