The new PR landscape – why we do things today that we wouldn’t have dreamt of 10 years ago
Being a veteran in PR means as well as feeling pretty old from the fast-paced years of agency life, you get perspective. I remember the days of when participating in a new business pitch meant calling companies for brochures and communicating with the public meant faxing press releases to journalists. Most of us are relieved we don’t have to do that kind of stuff anymore.
The things that have lasted into the next generation of PR are still as important as they ever were, and relate to all of us in agency life: speed of response, honesty, ideas, creativity, a sense of humour, and making a story that will resonate with our audiences. In fact, the proliferation of channels created by electronic media means that these qualities have become even more important.
So what has been the fundamental shift in the PR landscape? It’s now not only the media, but also the customer experience, and how you manage it, which shapes your PR. With customers now being able to rave or rant in numbers online, the public really can be the company’s best PR agent – and in a world where 90% of buyer purchasing decisions begin with Google (according to Hubspot), companies are really only as good as their last Google search. The quality and quantity of on-line content will determine who wins and loses the search game.
The new world of PR is about content marketing and the management of online presence. The interaction with journalists is now only one part of mix, albeit still an important one. And not only how often, but the way in which we communicate with them has also changed; some journalists won’t even deal with you if you’re not on Twitter. One national technology correspondent told me they judge a company by its following, who it follows, and levels of engagement.
So, if agencies are still to manage corporate PR, and do it well, what do they need to do? What are the priorities for a modern day agency, which we wouldn’t have dreamt of 10 years ago?
For a start we have to understand the corporate personality, tone, brand, and even better, work with companies to develop that. We need to be able to engage with the customers directly on a company’s behalf and make sure the responses and messages are consistent across all channels.
Now we can create a single piece of content or idea that resonates, and then use it as many times and in as many places as feasible. One piece of strong content can be optimised across multiple channels. The story also needs a visual representation, but by using our camera phones, and posting to YouTube, Instagram or Vine; professional video is a thing of the past, the realism and personality of amateur film is much more popular and accessible. And don’t forget to drip feed the relevant stories and thought leadership material into email campaigns. Each campaign should have truly multi-channel reach.
Increasingly, instead of sending the story to a journalist, the best way to get their attention is to tweet it. The 140 character limit means you need to get to the point and hone in on that killer headline – focusing on the actual story. A journalist may even frame a question depending what they have found out about you online. One national technology correspondent told me they judge a company by its following, who it follows, and the level of engagement it has in its industry, i.e. how successful it is on Twitter.
And it’s not only the media, we must tap into on-line conversations and develop other relevant groups of influencers. Once we do this and companies start to take ownership of the issues, our clients’ following will come to them as a source for the answers. No longer are journalists alone in this position of privilege - PR has become more direct.
As PR has become more measurable a natural positive outcome is the need to encroach on what was traditionally the sales domain and look at traffic sources to see which are the most valuable lead generators. We also need to gather ideas from our client’s prospects, partners and customers to feed the PR campaign with the industry’s burning issues.
Most importantly perhaps, PRs now have the ear of the boardroom, driven by the intelligence PR can provide with regard to corporate sentiment, competitive analysis, and customer relationships. The social media tools have brought this privilege to the comms team; it is up to us to use them to maximum benefit.
For the first time ever our clients can have real-time feedback. As the new breed of PRs we can work out where the prospect is on their journey and form a picture of our audiences through their digital activity – often we are liaising with prospects more than journalists. We have direct access to the customer and can measure companies’ credibility via their audiences in sentiment, sharing, following and interaction. This is possibly the most daunting prospect of all, but the most valuable. If we don’t understand the client and react as the client could have and would have, we don’t have a right to be their partner.
So in summary, agencies now have to be integral to sales and marketing teams and stand the test of the public vote, not just the journalistic community. Personally, I count all of the above as huge positives and I think the real PR people can now stand out more than ever. It’s also not so much a case of marketing budget wins, but marketing relevance wins.
The evolution of the PR landscape has been a great leveler, and the winners will be the clients and agencies which make the most of these new and many opportunities to stand out from the crowd.