There are more channels than ever for companies to use to promote their business. From YouTube, Vimeo and Instagram to the BBC and The Times, there are many avenues available to companies looking to connect with an audience. What’s more, as the lines between public relations and marketing become increasingly blurred, organisations are thinking less in terms of specific disciplines – PR, social media, content marketing etc – and simply using whichever method, or combination of methods, works best. If you’re looking for help, it’s easy to see why an agency that claims to offer all these services may be appealing. With everything under one roof, the administration is often much easier – why waste time trying to source different suppliers and multiple teams?

But take care when choosing a partner. While many agencies will list an extensive list of services on their website, it’s important that you find out exactly how they do this and execute on all these areas. Do they claim to do everything in-house or are they working with their own set of partners? Where does their specialism actually lie?

Transparency is everything

The most important thing is to find out who you are dealing with. Does the digital agency you are talking to have its roots in design, or technology? How large is the PR team in that integrated marcomms company? If it’s social media you’re after, how many other clients does the PR agency manage such campaigns for?  It may well be that you can indeed find everything you want under one roof, or perhaps you trust your agency enough to work with them to try out something new, but you don’t want to find that you are inadvertently the guinea pig for a service you thought they were an expert in.

Coming from a PR background you might expect me to say this, but when it comes to media relations, you need a specialist. It’s telling that PR is the one area frequently absent from other “full service” or “integrated” offerings. Formulating a story and explaining it clearly and compellingly to another human being isn’t easy. It’s not simply a question of writing a piece of content containing the right keywords and launching it into the ether. For the most part, it’s about producing something that genuinely resonates with your target audience and delivering it into the hands of whichever media outlet they are engaging with.

Of course, there are many different ways of working with the media but make sure that you are able to distinguish, for example, between an agency that is negotiating to secure you backlinks and one that is working to improve your reputation. Both can be valid, but they aren’t the same.

Bringing the talent together

Having said this, there’s no reason why one agency can’t act as a central point for all of your requirements. Your creative agency may manage your re-brand but bring in a specialist copywriting team or PR agency to help with non-visual communication, for example. In the same way, a PR agency may subcontract to designers and videographers – something we ourselves do frequently. The collaboration of specialist teams not only means that every aspect of a project is executed by an expert, but it encourages fresh ideas to be brought to the table. A group of people coming from entirely different viewpoints but working together on a single campaign can form a highly creative unit. It’s a model that has served film and TV production well for decades, and as a client, you can still benefit from a single point of contact.

There’s no doubt that choosing an agency to help you with marketing and communications in a sector with such ill-defined boundaries can be difficult. It’s also true that it’s the responsibility of those of us in the agency sector to make it clear to our prospective clients which services we offer ourselves, which we outsource and where our true expertise lies. As a client, just make sure that you are asking the right questions.

Advancements in digital technology and changes within the media means that pinning down the boundaries of PR and marketing is harder than ever. In our ‘Purpose of PR 2018’ report, we spoke to 50 industry professionals to understand what they’re prioritising in 2018. Our findings may help you to think about the different ways organisations can now communicate their message to ultimately achieve wider business objectives.

Xanthe Vaughan Williams

Xanthe Vaughan Williams


Xanthe Vaughan Williams, director and co-founder at Fourth Day PR.