PR CEOs Debate Business of PR at Economist Panel

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How much of an agency’s revenue should come from digital? Did social media win Barack Obama the presidency? How will the financial industry remake itself in the midst of massive scandal and meltdown? These were just some of the questions debated last night at “The Business of PR” panel discussion hosted by The Economist at the 92YTribeca in New York.

The panelists, Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn, Rubenstein Communications President Steven Rubenstein and Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden were joined by moderator Mathew Bishop, American Business Editor and NY Bureau Chief of The Economist.

“Your life is more and more on the record if you’re someone of interest, and that’s just a fact of life,” said Penn, in regards to new media. “There is much more engagement than ever before with bloggers, journalists,” he said. In terms of CEOs or politicians who once thought that they could ignore one or two detractors, “that just can’t exist in this environment.”

Ruder Finn’s Bloomgarden disagreed, and stated, “You can ignore people.”

Click continued to read the complete recap and view PRNewser’s video interview with Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn.

However, “there is no corner small enough to hide,” she added. Rubenstein called search “unbranded news” and said that PR professionals are “primary content creators and we have to think of ourselves that way.” He credited Richard Edelman for the statement.

The gap between ad agencies and PR agencies is closing due to social media and digital, said Penn. Currently about 15 to 20% of Burson-Marsteller’s revenue is “digitally related,” he said, adding that the figure is “not enough” and he expected it will “become something like 50/50 over time.”

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In terms of Rubenstein’s digital revenues, Rubenstein said the agency doesn’t separate digital. “We couldn’t draw a line” between digital and other work, he said, and elaborated that there was too much overlap. “We’re not an hourly billing organization, we basically agree on flat fees,” he said. Bloomgarden said that Ruder Finn is “not seeing a huge amount of revenue from this space yet, but it will continue to accelerate.”

The financial industry’s PR problems were discussed at length, particularly that of Goldman Sachs. “The industry has to be honest with itself,” said Rubenstein. “Look at [former New Jersey Governor Jon] Corzine losing.” Corzine was a Goldman Sachs executive before moving to government. The industry, “has a very big job ahead of it,” said Penn, “and it’s not about one article, it’s going to take years to work through this.”