MSL CEO on how public relations will compete against marketing firms

  • Publicis-owned MSL is pitching its technology as the reason it can compete with marketing and advertising agencies, which have historically provided better proof of performance.
  • The agency has acquired tools and services to prove its work had impact, monitor news and social media more efficiently, and retarget content.
  • MSL said it’s performing this kind of work for big-name clients like Invisalign, P&G, and Cadillac.
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The public relations agency has struggled to keep up with marketing and advertising firms, with sophisticated tech to show ads led people to take actions like buy a product. But top public relations agency MSL thinks it can beat them at their own game.

Since joining the Publicis-owned agency two years ago, CEO Diana Littman made some key hires like chief innovation officer Bryan Pedersen and increased its tech budget.

MSL cut its roster of software vendors and is creating custom solutions rather than just using vendors’ standard product. Littman contends this has helped MSL measure its work, retarget content, monitor news and social media, and plan campaigns — giving the agency a shot at winning more business.

Littman said MSL has done this kind of work for its largest clients like P&G, Cadillac, KitchenAid, White Claw, and Invisalign-maker Align Technologies, especially as the coronavirus pandemic picked up.

During its third-quarter earnings call, Align credited MSL’s influencer strategy work and “teen and mom-focused consumer campaign” with an 118% year-over-year increase in total leads, increased consumer engagement, and 26% increase year-over-year in teenagers using Invisalign.

Read more: PR agencies are beefing up their data services to keep consulting firms like Deloitte and Accenture from eating their lunch

“Everybody is in competition with everyone else,” Littman said. “The mission I set for the agency is to reimagine what PR can accomplish and what a PR agency looks like. I’m not putting guardrails around the scope of our work.”

The lines between advertising and PR have blurred over the past decade, and it’s not the first time MSL has waded into advertising’s turf. Littman pointed to MSL’s work on a Pampers campaign during the Super Bowl last year as an example of the agency’s ability to do work beyond traditional PR.

Littman said MSL is building its agency around the concept of “discovery,” or using tools to track how a consumer landed on a piece of content and if that content led to an action.

MSL’s pitch is that it can make marketing campaigns that drive people to do things like buy a product or apply for a job, then provide legitimate attribution for what drove their decision.

“Like everyone else in the communications tech space, I want to make our work more analytical, more surgical, and overall, I want to have the ability to demonstrate the value of the work we’re doing,” Littman said.

In terms of overall performance, MSL is close to being flat in terms of annual revenue year-over-year, having grown in areas like healthcare, reputation management, corporate communications, consumer brand, and consumer marketing, Littman said.

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