Smaller Specialty Firms Competing with the Biggest Names in PR

A recent story in Crain’s New York Business is of particular interest to us because it highlights a theoretical PR industry of the future in which specialization is the key to success.

As we all know, the recession led many big-name clients to take their PR operations in-house–and some of New York’s smaller, more ambitious firms responded by tailoring their services more specifically to businesses within certain fast-growing industries like health care, education and technology.

In short, while these blink-and-you’ll-miss-them firms aren’t yet established leaders of the PR pack, their portfolios filled with marquee clients, they are posting impressive revenue totals at time when many businesses have yet to loosen their recession-era belts.

We’ve been led to believe that the truly exceptional PR team can adapt to serve any client, no matter what their industry might be. Part of this emphasis on flexibility helps us dispel the common belief that only a firm with “experience” in a given client’s field can represent them effectively. But, as Dukas PR president Richard Dukas puts it, “…you can’t be all things to all people.”

Do growing firms need to focus more on specialization moving forward? Such a move could simultaneously limit a firm’s pool of potential clients and make its services more attractive to businesses representing niche industries with specific demands, audiences and expectations. It could also lead to larger firms losing clients to those that have devoted themselves to specialization.

The Council of Public Relations Firms, whose SVP Matt Shaw commented on the Crain’s piece, hosts a list of prominent PR specialties and sub-specialties on its website. Does this list reflect current trends? And how quickly will it grow?

The big question: how do we see trends toward specialties and sub-specialties changing the PR business in the years ahead?