The reality is that creative agencies have spotted an opportunity and are now menacingly piling in.

For some time now I’ve been wondering why PR agencies seem so reticent to capitalise on their newfound position of strength. 

Let’s start with the good news. PR is in high demand. If you believe the numbers, the industry is in rude health. 

The 2016 PRCA census showed growth in the UK PR industry of 34% since 2013 to £12.9bn. The number of staff working in the industry was up an even more impressive 37% during the same period. 

The data on Creativebrief.com also supports this, pointing to a boost in client demand for PR agencies with activity in the discipline showing a 220% increase in the last 3 years. 

And in a way it’s not difficult to see why. 

The ongoing streamlining of marketing and comms teams sees PR increasingly fall under the remit of the marketing director, affording it increased stature in the brand marketing hierarchy. 

In a digital-everything world where earned media and advocacy are undisputedly king, the storytelling skills of the traditional PR person are in greater demand. 

In a landscape that sees consumers in control and holding brands to account more pointedly (think Uber, Google, Shell, McDonald’s and more), corporate reputation management is imperative. 

All of these elements bring the discipline of PR into sharper focus than ever before. So surely there’s never been a better time for the industry? Right? 

And the argument is (on the surface) given further weight if we focus on the most awarded work in recent years in marketing communications as a whole.

Let's take Cannes as a benchmark; arguably still for now the creative industry's biggest stage.

Here some of the most lauded and memorable work has come from the likes of Burger King (McWhopper), Always (Like A Girl), REI (Opt Outside), State Street Global Advisors (Fearless Girl), New Zealand’s Transport Accident Commission (Meet Graham) and more. 

If we scratch beneath the surface there’s an interesting trend here that’s impossible to ignore. All are campaigns that have thrived by placing PR and social thinking at the very core of the idea itself — amplified and activated through more traditional channels to great effect, but not led by them. 

But here’s the kicker. The brutal truth is that all of this isn't the good news for PR agencies that it might seem. The reality is that creative agencies have spotted an opportunity and are now menacingly piling in.

Those credited for the work above are McCann New York, Clemenger BBDO, Colenso BBDO, Venables Bell, Leo Burnett and others. Creative agencies, ad agencies, call them what you like, but they are not PR agencies. 

And that for the PR industry, on a macro level, is a growing problem. In the same way that it became a transformational issue for digital agencies just a few years back (many of whom no longer exist in any recognisable guise). 

But as much as there’s a clear and present threat here, there’s also untold opportunity. The fact remains that brands now better than ever understand the disproportionate value of PR activity working inextricably alongside broader advertising and marketing. 

And to me that’s long overdue. For too long the world of PR has seen itself (both structurally and philosophically) as separate and somehow different. But the time is right now for PR to align and to sit more definitively under the banner of the mainstream creative industries. 

At the same time, though, it’s important for the discipline not to completely lose its identity. And that will be a complex and difficult balance to strike, a transition requiring intelligent thought, industry cohesion and deft leadership. 

In the short-term, PR agencies must capitalise on the good times. They must shout from the rooftops about the central role that contemporary PR has to play at the heart of modern and purposeful brands. This is still something the industry seems strangely reluctant (or insufficiently organised) to do.

We’re on the cusp of a golden era for PR, but swift and definitive action is needed to ensure a strong and prosperous future for PR agencies and their staff. The sharks are circling.

Charlie Carpenter is the MD of marketing intelligence provider Creativebrief