McKinsey’s advice for the PR Industry

Seems to me that with all this talk of change and what some have termed an identity crisis being experienced by the PR profession, it would be useful to get a bit of advice from one of the world’s leading management consultancies.

One of the best pieces of insight I have read recently is an article in the McKinsey Quarterly on The dawn of marketing’s new golden age written by Jonathan Gordon (McKinsey New York) and Jesko Perrey (McKinsey Düsseldorf). It gives a great perspective on the new opportunities open to the wider marketing function and suggests five areas of opportunity and focus for the future: Science, Substance, Story, Speed and Simplicity. It struck me that these are exactly the same areas that the PR industry needs to exploit to survive and thrive, so lets take a look at each one of them.


This is all about the exploitation of data, analytics and tech tools in the everyday work of a PR professional. With the proliferation of new PR technology tools today’s communications professional has never been in a better place to use data and technology to anchor, execute and evaluate both PR strategy and tactics. The like’s of Deirdre Breakenridge has long talked about the idea of the PR Tech tester and Stephen Waddington has done great work recently crowdsourcing a bunch of technology tools in his #PRstack project. If we can build this scientific and engineering competence into the traditional world of the creative arts orientated professional the world is our oyster.



With the data and analytics in hand the PR function has the ability to bring substance to its work. In my nearly 20 years working in the marketing and communications industry I am ashamed to say that we are still viewed by many CEOs as “not the brightest bunch” within the organization. This maybe a generalisation with notable exceptions but just as the PR industry has always struggled with the concept of evaluation and ROI, it’s not surprising that industry’s leaders have often viewed the PR function as a non-core nice to have and not a must have. I have often been told we are not the ones that build products (that’s those engineering and maths graduates), build companies (that’s those finance, economics and business graduates) or are the sales hero’s (any degree will do here) in a company.

In my view over the last five years the creation of the Barcelona principles and the emergence of the AMEC Valid Metrics Framework has done a lot to bring substance to the industry but we need to do more. We need to look towards the work of the Reputation Institute, the Edelman Trust Barometer and even Simon Sinek’s Why thinking to bring more substance to the professional. With data and a focus on business outcomes in hand, todays PR professional should be able to affect what a company does (its substance), not just what it says or what other people say about it. I know one industry insider turned rebel Robert Phillips, author of Trust me PR is Dead would agree on this one.


PR has always shaped an organisation’s story and today cementing the position as chief brand story teller is one of PR’s biggest opportunities. As all organisations struggle with a digital transition the development and communication of a compelling and emotional brand story is one of the key elements in creating and sustaining a differentiated competitive advantage. However in the world where mobile, search and social dominate this story cannot be created, communicated and controlled told by the PR function. It needs to be co-created with an organisations stakeholder community (employees, investors, suppliers, customers, regulators, partners etc) to have true resonance .

Truly understanding your customer pain points, the experience both digital and physical you can offer to solve these pains will also be key to this brand story development. The role of creativity will also be central in successful brand story development. Creativity has always been at the heart of successful PR practice and it is more important today than ever. This should be an easy challenge to take on from an industry of creatives and this is where I see a great opportunity for in-house and agency collaboration. Some have predicted the demise of the traditional agency but I see great opportunity here for agencies who can bring creativity to in-house teams that sometime because of an internal focus cannot see the “wood for the trees” and need external inspiration to develop creative excellence


As’s CEO Mark Benioff recently said

“… every industry is being disrupted and speed is the new currency of business”

…and this is true for the PR profession too. I am confident that with the social and mobile revolution we have all experienced over the last 7 years we are moving from an industry focused on campaigns and traditional media to an industry with an” always on” mindset acting and reacting in real-time. This development needs to continue at pace as an organisation’s key chance for succeeding is whether or not it can move faster than its competitors


One of the enablers of speed is organisational simplicity. This is where I see both the in-house and agency world still struggling. The emergence of digital, just like the rise of broadcast did in its day, has presented an organisational challenge. Many in-house and agency organisational structure still have silo thinking built into them with a divide between “digital” and “traditional” practice. I am confident that this divide will disappear over the next few years but we need to be focused eliminating as much functional and hierarchical complexity as possible . Simplicity in organisational structure is one thing but simplicity in working practices is also demanded. PR and Communications functions should look to the technology world and take a lesson from the agile and lean start-up movement. A culture of MVPs, constant iteration and a build, measure and learn mentality needs to be built into PR working practice as opposed to the yearly or quarterly and campaign planning that dominates today.

So there you have it a new McKinsey inspired model for the development of the PR profession. They already have the McKinsey 7s Framework for strategy, I guess this is the 5s Framework for PR.

So that’s the heavy stuff but the best piece of advice I have heard recently for the profession comes in the form of a new podcast for the industry Digital Wake by Max Tatton Brown of Augur and Danny Whatmough of Weber Shandwick. I paraphrase Danny but if I recall it rightly he argues that we should stop focusing on our identity crisis and industry definitions and just let our work speak for ourselves. I am 100% in agreement there. Whether you are agency or in-house, just get on with doing great stuff, producing great results that are aligned with business objectives and the evolution of the PR industry will take care of itself.

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