The public relations industry is entrenched in an identity crisis. PR firms finally realize that today’s brands demand more than the traditional agency model of yesterday. These organizations need a strategic partner that truly understands their business goals and utilizes a fresh, integrated approach to deliver bottom line results.
In response to these changes, over the last few years hoards of aging agencies have updated their core messaging to remain relevant, including PR giant FleishmanHillard, who jumpstarted this trend in 2013 with their own major rebrand.
Rather than touting their size and experience, as they had in the past, PR agencies are now slinging around buzzwords words like “modern,” “contemporary” and “digital” to portray the type of innovative and forward-thinking qualities brands now look for in a creative partner.
The problem, however, is that not all of these agencies have made significant changes to their business methods to justify their new claims. They’ve put lipstick on a pig, and it’s created a confusing market for brands in need of these services.
This trend has created three types of firms, illustrated below.
The emergence of lipstick agencies is perhaps the most disturbing industry trend I’ve witnessed over the past few years.
Rather than restructuring and implementing a fundamentally different approach as they claim, lipstick agencies still lean on the tired practices of the past. Yes, some of them now offer social media services, but they often lack sophistication and fail to drive meaningful or measurable results. They still produce media visibility, but they do little to help clients translate that coverage into bottom line success. They deliver campaign analytics, but it’s often in the form of dated and arbitrary measurement methods like ad value equivalency.
The deception doesn’t end with their public portrayals, either. Lipstick agencies are also using these buzzwords to recruit and retain millennial talent. The leaders at the top of these organizations are too often drinking their own Kool Aid, refusing to take an honest look at the misalignment between their marketing claims and the reality of their business models.
The truth of the matter is that the conversion from traditional to integrated requires a radical restructuring from top to bottom. More importantly, it requires fresh faces and new ideas. Integrated agencies are full of new ideas, but unfortunately lipstick agencies are full of something else.
Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, a national financial public relations and digital marketing agency, and founder and content director of AdvisorAdvertising, a premier media channel offering the latest tips and trends on advertising, marketing and public relations for financial advisors. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianHartPR.