The changing face of public relations


Fleishman-Hillard is rebranding and shifting the company’s strategy. First, they’re deleting the hyphen from the name (since that will be effective as a rebrand) and moving to offer other services like social media planning.

Here are excerpts from the New York Times story:

Truth be told, the changes at FleishmanHillard — with worldwide revenue of more than $500 million and 2,500 employees in 84 offices — are meant to signal how it is striving to become an integrated marketing communications agency that offers services like advertising and social media marketing in addition to public relations.

FleishmanHillard will seek to be “channel agnostic,” Mr. Senay said, an industry term meaning to be objective about the various forms of communication, whether paid, owned, earned or shared, to reflect “how the public consumes media today.”

To that end, the agency is hiring a former longtime journalist, Pat Wechsler, as senior vice president and director for editorial and corporate content strategy, working in realms like content marketing, which provides consumers editorial and entertainment articles and video clips that marketers sponsor.

He was hired after FleishmanHillard had brought in scores of the types of employees who are more typically found at consultancies, brand identity businesses or ad agencies, among them analytics specialists, planners, copywriters and art directors.

It’s interesting to note that like journalism, public relations is trying to find different ways to remain relevant to their audiences and clients. As many journalists work to make their own brands and use social media to promote their work, many large corporations are still struggling to determine the best way to answer questions and reach customers via these new, non-traditional channels.

Here’s more from the Times:

Reflecting the broadening of the services offered by FleishmanHillard beyond public relations, the agency last year placed more than $1.2 billion worth of ads in paid media, compared with $250 million in 2011.

“A lot of things have changed in consumer product marketing, especially the multiplicity of channel options,” said Mike Brooks, executive director at the William K. Busch Brewing Company in St. Louis, which hired FleishmanHillard to create television, radio, outdoor, online, retail and social-media ads to introduce two beers, Kräftig Lager and Kräftig Light.

Asked to assess the work, Mr. Brooks paused to declare, “I’m not on a P.R. campaign for FH,” then said: “I am happy to report thumbs up in every regard. The creative and the messaging are well received. And we have one quarterback of all the disciplines, Tom Hudder, an executive creative director, ensuring everything is consistent.”

FleishmanHillard is, of course, not the only agency reassessing its operations in light of the profound changes in marketing and media. Large competitors like Edelman, part of Daniel J. Edelman Inc., and Weber Shandwick, a unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies, are also reworking their service offerings.

Because of innovations like social media, the model has evolved from “trying to connect people with brands” to “trying to connect people with people to connect with brands,” he added. “Agencies that have made an effort to bring in fresh talent are getting hotter.”

As traditional media outlets now compete with Twitter, Reddit and Facebook to disseminate news, public relations executives are also grabbling with how to use these tools. As more people turn to social media to ask questions, comment on products and complain about service, firms have to find a way to answer consumers without provoking their ire.

A corporate executive once told me that one of his biggest fears was having a social media boycott or campaign against his firm. He said once allegations are out on the web, it’s much harder to tell his side of the story. He said it was hard to find advice that was actionable and from people who knew how to run a social media campaign. Integrating new outlets into communications plans is now imperative.

It looks like firms such as Fleishman are beginning to shift to adapt to the new landscape.