Innovation is taking place in almost every area of the public relations agency business

Public relations industry leaders explore future of agencies in #FuturePRoof project backed by ICCO and the PRCA.

Progressive public relations agencies are rapidly modernising. They are embracing new skills in data, research and paid media, and are investing in creative teams.

Profits are healthy in well-managed businesses, and the market overall is growing according to both the PRCA and ICCO.

Innovation is everywhere in practice from freelancers through to the largest agencies.

However one area in which there remains surprisingly little innovation is around billing models. The dominant structure continues to be fees charged by the hour, albeit on retainer or project basis.

These are the headline findings of this #FuturePRoof project on the future of the public relations agency, backed by ICCO and the PRCA.

Seventeen agency leaders contributed to the #FuturePRoof project sharing insights into how they are innovating in response to client demand and media change.

The project reached its conclusion today with the publication of a white paper. That said its a #FuturePRoof project so its actually orange.

I led and acted as editor for the three-month project with Sarah Hall, founder of #FuturePRoof and managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting. The white paper called Exploring the Public Relations Agency is available free as a download. It consists of 15 essays exploring different areas of agency innovation.

Project findings

The project identified eight significant areas of change in the agency business.


  1. Public relations is outsmarting rival disciplines through innovation. It is helping clients build better organisations. Therein lies its future, and huge value.

Drivers of innovation

  1. Clients, shareholders and staff are the three drivers pushing agency-owners to build better businesses. That can only be a good thing.


  1. There’s a chasm emerging between the business model of traditional agencies, and the demands of modern clients. Smart agencies are building businesses in this space.
  1. Agencies are limited only by their skills and ambition. Small agencies are able to compete with large thanks to communications and travel.

Billing models

  1. Agencies are simple businesses that are well understood by clients. Innovative business models threaten clarity and risk confusion.
  1. Better measurement systems are fundamental to business model innovation. It remains a work in progress for agencies.

Service innovation

  1. Core services within a modern agency include storytelling, creative and content, as well as paid, earned and shared media, as they shift from traditional media and publicity based services.


  1. A shift to 24/7 working and the cost of infrastructure are two big issues that need to be tackled by public relations agencies.

Twitter chat

I’m hosting a Twitter chat tonight (5 April) from 8pm to 9pm with many of the contributors to explore the findings from the project. It’d be great to have you involved in the conversation. Please follow #FuturePRoof on Twitter.

Thank you

My thanks to the agency leaders that contributed to the project: Ruth Allchurch, Cirkle; George Blizzard, The PR Network; Colin Cather, Bottle; Alison Clarke, Alison Clarke Communications; Julius Duncan, Remarkable Content; David Gallagher, Ketchum; Jim Hawker, Threepipe; Sarah Hall, Sarah Hall Consulting; Nicky Imrie, The PR Network; Francis Ingham, PRCA and ICCO; Dieter Lloyd, PamLloyd PR; Pam Lloyd, PamLloyd PR; Ella Minty, Reputation Management Consultant; Alex Myers, Manifest; Laura Richards, Northstar Ventures; and Renee Wilson, PR Council.

Next project

The next #FuturePRoof project for ICCO and the PRCA will focus on mental health in the profession. If you’ve got a story or helpful content that you’d like to share, please contact Sarah Hall.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Love your comment about clients driving agency innovation – it’s important to keep our skills to a level that clients expect and demand. So many digital agencies fail to do this, and are challenged with fulfilling what they sell. The language comes easy, the integration and results are much harder.

    I wish more agencies tested digital tactics using their own brand. It’s a wonderful playground and helps agency biz dev, reputation, trust and so much more… without learning on the client’s dime.

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