Or more specifically do PR agencies need to build internal filtering systems for the content they create for clients?
(Disclosure: I work at Weber Shandwick and Harris is my boss – although I do not report directly to him).
During the discussion part of his talk with the staff, Harris made a fascinating observation about PR agencies creating content on behalf of their clients. For example, Weber Shandwick provides video production, web design, application building and editorial services for clients and has been for several years.
Harris was quite eloquent in his description and I wish I had captured his comments verbatim. However, I wasn’t smart enough to do so, so I’m forced to paraphrase. So blame me if this doesn’t sound articulate. But Harris’ basic observation hinged on the fact that PR agencies are paid advocates for their clients. Other agencies might try to dilute this fact, but in essence that is what PR agencies do – advocate on behalf of clients and their products and services.
In the past, PR agencies pitched the ideas, stories, products and services of their clients to journalists (and other third-parties, but for the sake of simplicity let’s focus on journalists). So there were no real consequences if a PR consultant pitched a reporter that a client’s product was “the best product ever made.” Because the reporter would then take the information and filter it.
What does that mean and how does this filtering work?
Filtering is a vetting process. Journalists work for news outlets with built in filters in the form of ethical codes, internal vetting processes, fact checking and an entire system operated by trained and professional editors and reporters. So by the time the story about the “best product ever made” is published the story reports that the product was” the best in its category” (not the best ever) and needed a few bugs fixed. And by the way, two other companies also offer similar products.
The advocacy of companies and PR firms were filtered and, as a result, that provided a safety net for PR agencies and their clients.
But those filters are now disappearing because of the internet.
In other words, the safety nets are coming down.
More companies are now publishing their own content directly to customers, prospects, employees, partners, etc. PR agencies like Weber Shandwick are providing companies with the expertise and know-how on producing and publishing blogs, creating Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, building and maintaining microsites and filming YouTube videos.
This brings us back to the initial question: Do PR agencies need filters?
Or are filters even necessary? Or even more crucial now than before? Will it become the job of PR agencies to help companies with filtering? Should PR agencies create filtering processes for their clients (and for themselves)? Should these practices be standardized?
These are big questions for the industry and ones that Weber Shandwick will be active in exploring.
I’d love to get your feedback and thoughts on this topic.