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Weber Shandwick/CPRF Chair Polansky Talks Digital, Measurement, and Firm Business

Among the current top priorities at the Council for Public Relations Firms (CPRF) is helping firms make a way through the world digital and social media, says Andy Polansky, president of Weber Shandwick and chairman of the organization.

Calling social media “a real growth driver for agencies,” Polansky said, “The budgets associated with public relations programs are seemingly getting larger. If you think about marketing spend from a historical perspective, there was a lot of money flowing to advertising and the various other disciplines. I think now there’s more of a jump-ball mentality; whoever brings the best ideas is going to win the day.” An October 27 event with guests Robert Gibbs, former Obama press secretary, and Mashable founder Pete Cashmore, will dig into these social media topics even further.

We had the chance to sit down with Polansky recently to discuss the industry issues that the Council is tackling, and business at his own firm. The Council’s members include more than 100 PR firms of all shapes and sizes. Talent and diversity was another important issue on CPRF list.

The Council has partnered with PRWeek (which is at the forefront of diversity issues, as we all know) for the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, which will recognize those who promote diversity across the industry. Nominations are being accepted and winners will be announced in December. The Council also has other workshops and programs to address this issue.

Finally, measurement, analytics, and procurement are critical topics, especially as budgets continue to grow and procurement pros get more involved.

“We don’t at all see procurement as the enemy,” said Polansky. “We want to be sure that we engage with that community, we help educate them on the services we provide, and understand better their perspective.” He said the organization is having ongoing talks with senior procurement execs at major corporations, and there’s a whitepaper in process. (You can check out this Q&A from earlier this year in the meantime.)

“Measurement and ROI will increasingly become center stage in how firm performance is assessed,” he added. To that end, Polansky said there needs to be a common standard beyond the Barcelona Principles and “expand on what’s contained in” those Principles.

“Firms will continue to have their own proprietary approaches. But when there are no common standards, it can create confusion in the market. If we have common standards that resonated with the client and procurement communities, then I believe it would bring more money into the profession. We would have the data to support our proposition,” he said.

Turning specifically to Weber Shandwick, Polansky emphasized the growth the firm has experienced; organic growth, growth in areas like public and consumer health, corporate, and tech, and growth in certain regions, including Asia and Europe.

“Another factor that is fueling our growth is cross-practice [activity],” he added. “We’re seeing more and more how issues and marketing are becoming intertwined and that is creating more opportunity for us.” As an example, Polansky says working with food companies can include work in areas of consumer as well as public policy.

“I’m pretty bullish about the business for the rest of this year and beyond,” he said.

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