Here are my observations on the past 12 months, which has seen the PR industry move to a much more important position in the communications sector.
- Convergence of Marketing and Corporate Reputation — Unilever’s Project Sunlight, which asked consumers to modify their own behaviors in pursuit of a sustainable future, is a perfect example of the overlap between the two previously separate disciplines. More than 70 million people have signed up for the program through a Facebook page. This is the second half of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan program, which has seen the modification of packaging and reformulation of products, achieving what it can on the supply side but the future gains must rely on customer embrace of change. (disclosure: Unilever is an Edelman client.)
- The Publicis Omnicom Merger — For the PR units of the merged entity, this is sure to bring further attention to cost control and margin enhancement. The inevitable conflicts between clients will cause senior executives to have sleepless nights. I predict further consolidation among operating units and a halt on acquisitions until the dust has settled.
- The Emergence of a Chinese Player — The Blue Focus acquisition of We Are Social on top of its large investment in Huntworth confirms the global ambitions of Oscar Zhao. It is a lot easier to do as a public company with a huge multiple of earnings. The emphasis on non-PR activities in recent deals is interesting, as if to say PR is only the heritage business. China is now the third largest PR market in the world, behind the U.S. and UK.
- The Growing Divide Between Large and Medium Sized Firms — The top end of the PR business (Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Weber Shandwick) is pulling away in size from those in the fourth to sixth place position (MSLGroup, Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum) but even more so from the seventh to 10th place firms (Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Ogilvy, Golin Harris, Waggener Edstrom). The size gap is now two to five times in revenue. The difference is in global footprint and breadth of offer.
- The Move to Diversify — All PR agencies are trying to move to a new space that is being driven by the evolution of the marketplace and client demands. FleishmanHillard has declared its interest in building an integrated communications operation, from paid to earned. For us, the approach is putting PR, digital and research together yielding a new type of integrated marketing firm with social at the core and the ability to deliver on the 24/7 living brief. Edelman derives 17 percent of its fees from digital, and another 6 percent from research, entertainment and sports.
- The Advent of Large Asian and Latin American Multinational Corporations (MNCs) — Burson-Marsteller has many Chinese clients including Huawei. Edelman has Tencent, Brazil Foods, Tata and Mubadala. The needs include employee engagement, public affairs, marketing PR and corporate reputation. This trend will only accelerate.
- MNC Clients Focus on Fewer Markets — This is particularly evident in Europe, where clients are asking for support in the larger markets but cutting marketing spend in smaller markets.
- The Media as Partner, Not Solely Outlet — Every major mainstream player has a native advertising play (view our Sponsored Content Report here). PR folks will not have the largest suitcase (that honor falls to the media buyer) but we can be the smart bomb, accelerating trending stories or instigating clever memes with born-digital players such as BuzzFeed (note our razorbombing promotion for Schick).
- Technology Sector Now No. 1 PR Spender — Tech has surpassed health and consumer products. This is true whether you are a large or small firm.
- The Passing of the Torch — Industry leaders such as my father, Dan Edelman, and Don Kirchoffner, died in the past year. It is down to us to carry forward the ethical behavior and professional standards of the founders of the business. I was so pleased to see PRWeek honor Harold Burson and Al Golin in December.
As our business and remit for clients continues to change we must stay true to our values as an industry and remember that PR is a mindset and not a set of tools. In a year-end update to the Edelman staff this past Monday, I stressed the importance of the five values of our founder Dan Edelman. I believe that they are generally applicable to all who practice PR. First, you are to focus on the client work, not the money (that will come as a natural by-product of excellence). Second, you should be humble and hardworking, never satisfied, always learning. Third, you should be entrepreneurial, trying new things, getting up when you fall down to try again. Fourth, you must be both global and local, because our business relies on cultural mores. Fifth, it is about the team, not the individual, about “we” and not “I.”
Have a wonderful holiday season; take the time to read books, work out and relax with your family.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.