Five Ways The PR Industry Can Invest In Its Future

A blog post by David Gallagher, ICCO President and senior partner & chief executive for Ketchum in Europe

Two weeks ago nearly 200 global PR leaders met in Paris for a frank and free discussion on the industry’s future at a conference convened by ICCO, an international trade body representing over 1700 PR agencies worldwide through 29 national Associations.


The conference, Change or Perish, was by most measures a success, and signals the arrival, finally, of a global mindset for a profession that has been aiming for international excellence, professionalism and growth for decades.  You can check out all of the content here, including the World PR Report and the material presented by some of the brightest lights in PR today.


But while the conversation bubbled in many accents and from a wide range of perspectives – delegates hailed from Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australia and Africa – one important voice wasn’t really heard: that of the young professional.


Don’t get me wrong.  Even those of a more, shall we say, statesmanlike seniority had fresh perspectives (check out Lord Chadlington’s remarks here), but for a conference about the future, we were lacking the views of those destined to be its leaders in the coming decades.


And so one suggestion for investing in the future of the industry: send some under-30s to the next ICCO summit in New Delhi in 2014.  In fact, I hope every ICCO member association will endeavour to send at least one under-30 to the next conference, and use the occasion to generate as much discussion and ideas from this group for our future.  I’d suggest we hold a pre-conference for the Gen-Y delegates and then actively involve them in the main conference.  I’m sure we can be extremely creative when it comes to selecting representatives and gathering great thinking from across our local and national industries to kick off a truly global conversation.

And while we are looking at ways to invest in our global future, here are four other ideas:


  1. Adapt the UK PRCA apprenticeship programme in other markets.  This ambitious initiative allows PRCA member agencies to open their doors to employees from all parts of the workforce, including those from lower socio-economic communities.  And this in turn diversifies our base of consultants and creatives to offer more sophisticated and inclusive solutions to client challenges.
  2. Establish an ‘ICCO PR Institute’.  This would be a lecture circuit or speaker-exchange to bring the best teachers and innovators from our member markets to places where there is a strong and growing appetite for top-grade PR consultancy.  Delegates from the Middle East thought this might help spur interest in PR as a career and accelerate the already rapid professionalization of communications consultancy across the region, and I suspect other markets may enjoy a similar benefit.  And of course the proposition works both ways, with PR innovators from emerging markets making themselves available to stimulate thinking in the ‘established’ centres.
  3. Collaborate to compete.  Most of the delegates in Paris returned to wherever they’re from to resume the daily battle against each other.  That’s appropriate and within the natural order of things, but it’s increasingly clear that we all have common adversaries beyond the PR industry: management consultancies, looking for access through their approach data analytics; and ad agencies, working to convert their traditional storytelling prowess into something new and compelling.  Both challenges can be met, and many PR firms are already finding their own ways to differentiate, but a collective industry-wide effort to counter both challenges globally could be great contributions by ICCO and other international PR organizations.
  4. Do well by doing good.  One common theme from this summit and just about every PR conference I’ve ever attended is the need for PR to ‘better PR itself.’  I’m not sure I fully agree but I appreciate the sentiment; what we do can and should be a force for good in the world, and people should know about it.  How we go about showing our value, however, is not completely clear.  Cardiologists don’t prove the value of cardiovascular surgery by operating on themselves, for example – the results speak for themselves.So here are a couple of thought-starters. Let’s make a collective effort to show our best work on the most visible stages, like theCannes Lions competition.  I made a passionate, if not wholly persuasive, plea to ensure that the best of our work from the around the world finds its way to Cannes, and there are plenty of ways we can help each other: workshops on creating winning entries, establishing categories in other competitions with Cannes-style criteria, and banishing once and for all the use of advertising value-equivalency (AVE) as a meaningful metric.

    We can also let the work we do to address social problems – road safety, neonatal nutrition, anti-bullying and recycling, to name just a few – speak for itself as a force for progress.  One way: a new website from the World Economic Forum and the US Ad Council (and, in full disclosure, a pet project of mine and Ketchum) called Creative For Good.  This site features case studies and best practice from around the world, convening NGOs and agencies to look at what’s worked and why to tackle sticky social problems – and it would be a true shame for PR solutions to not feature prominently among them.


So let’s get to it.  We agreed in Paris we have a bright future in PR.  Let’s take the necessary steps now – maybe some of these, certainly many others – to realize it.