Considerations for Launching a Specialty Practice

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A looming recession has some industries cutting costs and employees to relieve current economic challenges and prepare for some that are upcoming. 

But the industry is not ignorant to impending economic forecasts, and one way many agencies continue to foster growth is through the launch of specialty practices. A specialty practice allows a large agency to make a niche within the communications function. Some notables include Fleishman Hillard’s True MOSAIC diversity, equity and inclusion communications practice; Hill+Knowlton’s Better Impact, a citizenship and sustainability consultancy; and APCO Worldwide’s APCO Impact, which focuses on corporate ESG purpose initiatives.

Feeling the push to diversify? PRNEWS talked to agencies who have done so successfully and provided advice on how and when to launch a specialty practice. 

Paying Attention to Public Affairs

Silverline, the longest-standing woman-owned climate and clean tech PR agency, with nearly 15 years in the business, believes this is a “golden age” for climate conversations as the challenges become more frequent and alarming.

The group paid attention to news and reports showcasing the need for environmental, social and governmental (ESG) planning, including the favorable public and private sector response to the Inflation Reduction Act, impacts of reducing and reporting on Scope 3 emissions, and corporate conversations around overall climate stewardship.

Also, C-suite executives expressed the need to tell the story of compliance and reporting in tandem with SEC disclosure rules surrounding ESG data planning and management.

Corporations also noticed communities standing up to speak out on environmental justice, making demands upon industry leaders.

Clare James Johnson, Vice President, Silverline, says the agency launched specialty practice Silverline+ in October 2022 for Fortune 500 organizations to seek a competitive edge in ESG and energy storytelling. 

“Corporate communicators and their internal stakeholders are increasingly seeing an urgent need to show up authentically in conversations that shape workforce development,” Johnson says. “They want to do this in a way that is transparent, authentic, and driven by data.”

Silverline+ centers on three service areas specific to climate, innovation, and policy: executive leadership, message development and content and creative strategy.

“These programs run alongside, and often serve as a foundation for, the ongoing strategic communications programs the Silverline team manages daily for its clean energy clients,” she says.

Looking at Client Needs

The Bliss Group branched out into its Workplace Specialty Group after noticing a trend among client needs. The agency focuses on building out specialty areas based on what it is hearing from clients, in anticipation of what’s next for the evolving communications industry. 

When most people hear “workplace specialty,” their minds may instantly turn to internal and employee communications. However, Meghan Powers, Vice President and Leader of the Workplace Specialty Group at The Bliss Group, says there is a unique dual market.

Powers says the needs of two sides of the employment industry—employers and those in the workplace solutions market—created a real communications niche. 

“In today’s environment, every company is looking to attract and retain top talent and create a sense of purpose and belonging among their workforce,” Powers says. “Clients in the business of total rewards, executive search, HR technology and other workplace solutions are [also] looking to stand out in a crowded market.” 

The formation of Bliss’ Workplace Specialty Group combined a response to this dual current market dynamic.

“All companies—regardless of size, industry and geography—need effective internal communications programs that prioritize employee engagement to stay competitive and foster a workplace of the future,” Powers adds. 

Addressing Industry Challenges

MAG PR, a boutique public relations agency that works with early-stage, venture-backed tech startups, develops brand visibility programs to announce these new companies . 

If you’ve ever been privy to startup culture, one thing you may notice is that everyone is a 'jack of all trades' and that there is never enough time in the day. It takes a team effort to take a product or service from concept to reality. 

Nina Pfister, Co-Founder, MAG PR, notes that authoring contributed articles, generating media Q&As and profiles and producing educational material like white papers and survey reports is a surefire, integrative way to promote growth for these companies. And while this all sounds great on paper, it provides a challenge to startups. 

“One major challenge for early-stage founders—who are typically hyper-focused on fundraising, building proof of concept, and leading lean teams—is the lack of time and resources to produce this collateral for their marketing stack,” Pfister says. 

And so MAG PR launched Anchor Content, a new specialty division focused on the production of engaging marketing content that helps tech startups elevate their brand visibility, reach their target audiences, establish thought leadership, and generate inbound leads. 

Best Practices

Each specialty practice benefits from its own knowledge base. And that knowledge can help the practice continually grow in its niche.

Silverline created an Advisory Council composed of clean energy and climate industry veterans. They include ESG practitioners, former CSOs, energy academics and former climate reporters. 

“They understand the complex issues our clients face, because they’ve worked on the front lines during the nascent years of climate and clean tech with multinational brands and early-stage startups,” Johnson says.

MAG PR is going to the source when hiring content experts for Anchor Content. In response to continued media layoffs, the agency is tapping into pools of journalists and freelancers. 

We recognize that the layoffs have had a tremendous impact across the media industry,” Pfister says. “[These writers] are eager to repurpose their expertise and produce top-notch content on a project basis, which benefits everyone involved.”

Pfister also believes the more specific the specialty practice and expertise, the better. 

“It's key to identify the hyper-focused market challenges you're aiming to tackle within this new practice area, gather real-life feedback from your existing and potential client base, and work to reverse-engineer a solution that addresses those pain points,” she says. “Ensuring you have the right talent on board and resources to allocate to drive this new practice area is critical."

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her: @buffalogal