The serious side of PR

Last night Text 100 held a party in San Francisco to show off its new offices in Maiden Lane. These are impressive premises for a business that only opened its doors in this part of the world in the late 90s. But then this is the agency that can boast IBM, Cadence, NEC, Xerox, FujiFilm and Earthlink as clients. So they you’d expect them to located in great space right? Well such premises would have been cost prohibitive only a few years ago. Indeed it may seem sad to say but the cost of accommodation has been one of the major drivers of the success and failure of te PR agency business in the last few years. I know of at least three firms that went out of business because greedy landlords had pushed them into office rents their businesses couldn’t support. If I look at the San Francisco market as an example, relatively small firms were being asked to pay $80-90/sq ft only three years ago. Today that same space is a mere $25/sq ft – and you’ll likely get all the office furniture you’ll ever need thrown in. What does all this mean and why have I taken the trouble to write about it? Well it means that the fiscal fundamentals of running a PR business are starting to come back into line. First came salaries, which like rent had been out of control. This bodes well for the sector and should mean that PR professionals will be able to run much better businesses. That is until the next economic bubble bursts – which hopefully isn’t for a very long time! Until then the Text 100 staff are going to work in one of the coolest spaces in the city, something that would have been unthinkable only a short while ago.

Winter? But it feels like Spring already

Winter has come early to Silicon Valley, at least in terms of the weather. The normally blue skies have been replaced by a more Seattle like gray. Of course winter in this part of the world is traditionally a short affair. By March people can feel quite confident that their morning latte can be consumed outside. While winter weather has arrived a little sooner than expected, spring like conditions appear to have come early to the tech PR industry. Agencies are once again hiring as new business opportunities abound and client spending rises.

Such conditions have not been the norm in the last few years. Indeed the market has been heavily in favor of the client. Knowing agencies needed the work clients have been able to place high demands on their external teams. That balance of power has, however, started to shift. While it would be unhealthy for a service industry like PR to dictate to clients, it is nice to see a more balanced relationship starting to develop between clients and their consultancies.

Of course this improvement in market conditions for agencies is not to be unexpected. Sales of the major tech firms have been on the rise, taking with them the marketing budgets of these businesses. At the same time VCs have been starting to pump large amounts of money into a wide range of startups – much of which needs to be used to get them recognized by the market. Of course not everyone is benefiting. In recent weeks I’ve heard on the grapevine that Fitzgerald is closing down its local office and that Golin Harris’s tech business is down to less than a handful of people (if this information is wrong please let me know and I’ll happily update the piece). Such was the strength of the downturn that we can expect some players to continue to suffer even as things improve.

Of course the PR industry still has some way to go to get back to the position it held in the late 90s. But I think on reflection most PR agency heads would now admit that they’ve learned some great lessons through these last few years and that they are now running much better businesses. If I look at my own businesses (Text 100 and Bite) I know for sure that we have a better list of clients and a better group of consultants to support them. We are also much more aware of the need to stay focused on what the client really needs and not be distracted by the corporate vanity that had started to creep in just before the downturn.

Anyway, as an Englishman I can’t wait for the rain clouds to go – I lived under clouds just like these for far too long. But I hope that when they do, the spring-like conditions in the PR industry don’t go with them.