WASHINGTON — PR agency owners say that if they were launching their firms today, developing core competencies and talent would still be top priorities, despite growing pressure to leverage technology more aggressively.

“Data and analytics are important. (But) we are a consumer agency at the end of the day trying to break through the screen, whatever that screen is, who is on the other side of that screen and how do you get them to care,” said Josh Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Day One Agency. “That’s our philosophy.”

Speaking on Monday at the Entrepreneurs' Forum that gets PRovoke19 underway, Rosenberg’s comments were part of a larger discussion that explored what it would take to launch an independent PR firm in 2019 — and how that differs from how panelists got their businesses off the ground. Fellow panelists were Hope&Glory founder and managing partner Jo Carr; Zignal Labs head of strategy and insights Jennifer Granston; and Montieth & Company founder and global managing partner Montieth Illingworth.

As Thenetworkone president and panel moderator Julian Boulding noted, the industry today is a vastly different business than it was just three years ago, when holding company revenue began to stagnate and pressures on PR firms to integrate and leverage technology rose.

Nonetheless, panelists, when asked what they would do differently in creating an agency, focused far more on what they see as the pillars of agency success — creativity, particular expertise and a diverse and talented team, for instance — rather than creating a next-gen agency that, for example, relies heavily on data & analytics or has an expansive range of offerings and expertise.

"You're only as good as the work and the campaigns that you do. If you create great work, your clients stay with you, you win awards, you win new clients and you keep your team,” Carr said, adding that is particularly true for an agency, like Hope&Glory, that works with consumer brands.

“The power of the idea and the power of the insight is what’s key,” said Carr. “We all know that it’s not as straightforward as having a great idea. You have to have a powerful narrative around it”.

Zignal’s Granston, who works for a media analytics platform, did, however, emphasize the power of data and analytics, which she said provide PR practitioners with the means to make better decisions. Granston, who is a veteran of the PR agency world, also warned against using newer solutions as a cure-all for industry challenges.

“It’s not enough to have data and insight and analytics. You have to convert it to something meaningful for the customer,” she said.

Panelists also preferred to stick to their core expertise rather than add a range of new offerings. Working with fellow independents that have different expertise is the better bet, they said. “There’s a lot to be said for being true to yourself,” said Carr.

There are, however, some things panelists said they’d do differently if they were starting a firm today, primarily surrounding diversity and creating a company culture that is more cognizant of mental health issues. “I think if I were designing a firm now, putting people at the heart is an area I’d give more thought to,” Carr said.

But, as Boulding said, PR agency owners, whether they are launching a firm or trying to improve what they have, don’t have to go at it alone.

"We can learn from professional services firms, as we see the rise of the people who are future-facing, as well as seeing a rise of platform models, and learning from what clients want. Clients do not want deliverables, they want outcomes.” Boulding said.