By Nick Dudley Williams, Managing Director of The Media Foundry.
For years PR has battled for a seat at the top table. Seemingly always waiting in the wings for its chance to shine, the industry has patiently watched as the lion’s share of budgets and strategic leads fell at the feet of other disciplines. PR would so often be asked to follow the leader.
Today, we find ourselves in an era driven by digital engagement. And with the digital communications baton being passed around like a hot potato between marketing disciplines in recent years, the explosion of social media has now suddenly placed it firmly into the hands of the PR sector.
The resulting last three years has seen sweeping changes to PR agencies’ service offerings. Gone are the days when return on investment was measured by column inches and double page spreads. Today the focus is natural search ranking, click-throughs and UGC. For many, the tangible and commercial proof points for PR are finally here. Long may it continue.
The intense customer dialogue now created through social media platforms has radically changed the way that brands engage with their publics. Some brands still run away from the idea, fearful of having thousands of once loyal advocates negatively influenced by a handful of vocal brand terrorists.
But this revolution can only be a positive shift. Marketing has always been about having a dialogue with your customer base, but historically we’ve been accustomed to using the more traditional one-way communication techniques that we’ve grown up with over the years. The two-way conversations that now exist are just a natural evolution of that.
But this is nothing new. We all know and accept that social media is here to stay and is radically changing how we market. So what’s my point?
PR has always been an incredibly influential asset for those business’ who have put it at the heart of their marketing mix. The power of third party endorsement, historically that of a print or broadcast journalist, has been at the forefront of the press officer’s arsenal, with the understanding that faith in the media that we consume, and the articles that we read, influences our behaviour.
By that, I mean our opinions and choices on products, services, companies, personalities etc, and the resulting purchasing decisions we make, are altered.
The difference today is that the media that many of us choose is social, and the journalists are citizens. Declining newspaper sales and rocketing Twitter followers, spiralling consumer lifestyle magazines and 200m+ Facebook friends – the facts speak for themselves.
But does that change the power of third party endorsement? Of course not. Arguably it’s stronger now than ever, with real advocates giving real reviews about things that really matter to them.
So now I take you back to that hot potato that’s been jumping from marketing discipline to marketing discipline, and I ask you: “Who would you rather manage your brand’s reputation in this new era?”
The Public Relations Consultancies Association (PRCA) defines the industry as being “…about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics to influence opinion and behaviour.”
This definition has been around long before the social media explosion occurred. Yet when I read it, it seems more relevant today than it was during the age of only print and broadcast media. Today, brands are being almost forced to embrace ‘what others say about them’ with reputations being made or broken on whether they maintain a ‘mutual understanding’ with customers in the digital space.
But it’s not just a case of PR’s welcoming in the newly created social media budgets. If only it were that simple! Other disciplines have woken up to the power of PR in this new social world we live in, with media agencies in particular now winning major pieces of PR work thanks to their social campaign offerings.
But the real point I want to make is about strategic thinking for this new digital, and very social, generation. What I hope I’ve made clear is that PR has evolved over the years developing the precise strategies and tactics that are now being employed across social media campaigns.
These are skills that have been honed over decades of experience managing brand’s reputations across all media types. Yes, the platforms we manage today are digital rather than traditional, but the challenges faced by brands are the same as those that PR has been fighting since the industry began.
Marketing strategies in today’s ever-changing world must have PR thinking at their core. The sector’s seat at the top table is fundamental to brands growing in today’s social media world. This truly is the age of PR.
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