Stephen Waddington: The £1bn opportunity that PR missed

04 Jul 2013

There’s no mistaking Stephen Waddington’s passion for new media. As Digital and Social Media Director of Ketchum Europe, President Elect of the CIPR, acclaimed author and blogger, he spends his life banging the drum for digital PR...and with good reason.

Fee income from the top 100 digital agencies is up 23% this year to £1.18bn according to Econsultancy and it looks set to rise again next year.  Stephen says the PR industry is perfectly positioned to get a piece of the action. But it needs to move fast.

He said: “90% of media consumption now takes place through a screen according to data from Google, so there’s this massive shift in how we, as consumers, consume our media and yet still the PR industry is geared towards getting content in traditional forms of media.”

Stephen argues that the PR industry lost valuable ground in the late 90s with the advent of Google and the rise of the SEO industry. While PR continued to focus on reaching mass audiences through mainstream media, a new digital landscape rose up behind its back. PR failed to react, while other commercial sectors capitalised.

He said: “Google came up with a new intermediated way for a brand to connect with an audience through search. That should have been right in the heartland of the public relations industry, instead we got nervous about the technical elements. So, a new industry was born and we totally missed it."

Despite the mistakes of the past, Stephen believes that the PR industry has sufficient scope to reposition, and embed itself as a key advisor to business. It’s a view that helped to win him the Presidency of the CIPR for 2014:

“I argued throughout the CIPR election that we have an opportunity as a profession to be assertive and to be the advisor to organisations who want to engage in a two-way process because we really understand the editorial environment, the influence of marketing, the reputation business and two-way engagement. That’s when the barriers go down between the different operational parts of the business, giving PR the opportunity to be there as the advisor along that journey.

 “The assertive agencies and practitioners will be the ones that are successful. If we don’t do it, we will completely miss the boat, because the digital agencies, the media buying agencies and the ad agencies are all over this.”

For PR practitioners, Stephen Waddington’s advice is straightforward: “Fundamentally it comes down to skills, education and a degree of bravery, so what individual practices that are smart are doing is adding new skills as quickly as possible. If you want to understand a new form of digital media then sign up and get involved with it.

“If we don’t get our heads around this, we risk becoming irrelevant, actually our skills are absolutely critical at the moment to the opportunity that we have. Overcome your fear and be brave – engagement via digital forms of media is very clearly the future of the public relations profession. “

There’s more from Stephen Waddington on his blog or on Twitter @wadds. His latest book, Brand Vandals will be published in October.

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