From the President’s Desk: The Future of the PR Agency – Specialized or Generalist?

Robert Simpson

Robert Simpson

President & CEO

For the last 20 years, Robert has specialized in strategic communication and public relations, focusing his passion for storytelling to help organizations achieve greater impact. As PR Associates’ leader, Robert plays a role in collaborating with clients and our teams to develop strategies and create experiences that deepen audience engagement.

Over the years, I have struggled, and see-sawed back and forth, if PR Associates should be a specialist or a generalist PR agency.

We’ve been both over the past twenty years, which means we have a team of industry specialists and a team of public relations and communication generalists working in the agency.

A few years back, many in the public relations industry claimed specialization was the way to go, since modern communication had become more complex and there was a need for specialization.

Then the pendulum swung back the other direction because specialization meant big picture and strategic planning were falling by the wayside.

For PR agency owners, specialization also limited growth opportunities and those agencies were highly susceptible to market, economic and political changes.

Last March, we made the decision PR Associates to move toward a generalist model, while still cultivating our specializations in Life Science, Natural Resources, Technology and Indigenous Affairs.

As a result of this decision we’ve grown into the technology, education, health care and the public sectors.

There’s still an argument to be made for specialization, so that’s why we still have our industry specialists focused on the life science, natural resource, technology and the Indigenous business sectors.

When you hire PR Associates you’re hiring very specific expertise.

Our knowledge level on the industry is deep and our specialized focus results in better message crafting, less time spent doing background research, better media relationships and better audience targeting.

Clearly, specialists are of critical importance; these days you would be hard-pressed to find a good PR agency that doesn’t have access to content marketers, web designers, app builders, data analysts, video producers, media experts and more.

In addition, there will always be a role for our “big picture” generalists who can step back and view how all the moving public relations parts needed to interact: the external issues, and how these affect a company’s public-facing image, and how that in turn affects employees and internal communications.

It’s easy to make a case for specialization, because “deep expertise” seems like it would always win the day—everyone would rather have an expert on hand.

But not always. I’ve seen the analogy used of a general practitioner doctor versus a specialist. Having a heart specialist or a neurologist on hand is great if you have conditions that need or require that level of expertise. The same logic applies in Public relations if you’re looking to increase visibility, build relationships within a community, and improve your rapport with the media, you need a generalist.

The benefit of see-sawing over the years, is that PR Associates in an enviable place amongst many PR agencies–we can assign both specialists and generalist to our teams.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion the future of modern PR agency is to have both a team of specialists and and generalists, keeping in mind public relations is already a specialty in itself.

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