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How to get to grips with PR in 2008

How to get to grips with PR in 2008

By Kevin Murray, Chairman of the Bell Pottinger Group, the Public Relations Division of Chime Communications

1. What are the biggest changes to have happened to the media landscape in 2007?

There are three things that spring to mind.

The first is the impact of the internet and how it has made things more transparent and faster. Clients are beginning to realise they are living in a goldfish bowl and they need to embrace the goldfish bowl if they are to thrive and survive. This is driving the need for more and better communications and a greater need for our services

Secondly, the impact of legislation and regulation is driving the need for more communication and this won’t slow down.

Thirdly, there’s all this talk about the “so called” recession, but I this is not something we are seeing.  It may impact on advertising budgets but marketers are now looking to spend their budgets more wisely and are seeing at PR as a more cost-effective way of delivering.

2. PR used to be about creating a brand message and then trying to get this placed in the national press. How has this practice changed?

It’s radically different. It’s not about the message anymore. We live in the age of conversation and dialogue. If brands are not involved in that conversation they will die.

Brands need to find out what conversations are going on, what is being said about them and get involved in a legitimate way.  They need to be open, honest and know who and what they stand for.

Also, we live in a symbiotic world where the national media is moving online. Newspapers are more concerned about their web than print editions and are demanding richer media content.

Independent journalists and blog writers have never been as important in influencing opinions but at the same time have never worked as close with consumers. This would once have been unheard of.

The idea that you can put a message out there and control it to the end is so outdated it belongs to the age of the dinosaurs.

However PRs cannot get away from good, old fashioned strategic planning, which means understanding the new needs of their audiences and addressing them in new ways. The new word has to be “engagement” forcing a new approach to PR campaigns.

3. Celebrities are increasing being used to front brand campaigns. Are brand messages being lost when the media seems more interested in celebrity?

There’s a real danger that that can happen. Hanging a campaign on a celebrity can be a dangerous move in a fishbowl world. Before you realise what’s happening the issue is running away and it may not be the best way to communicate a message.

But it’s not a case of “either” using a celebrity “or” communicating a brand message. Rather it’s a case of and /and.

That said, there are some good examples where a celebrity has been used successfully to deliver a brand message.

4. Will ‘stunts’ still have a role to play in 2008, in an increasingly media savvy world?

Yes, absolutely. But as we exist in a media savvy world, so the stunts have to be equally savvy. They need to have a style and humour that makes sense with the brand they are related to, rather than just being a stunt for a stunt’s sake.

They need to ask themselves what’s the client’s point of view and how does this relate? There’s no point in being edgy if your client’s not edgy. There’s got to be a fit.

By means of example, we organised a ‘Caroloke’ project for 118 118. The brand’s runners took to the streets and got members of the public to sing carols. Videos were uploaded onto a website where viewers could vote for their favourite. It was fun, quirky and a great success, as well as being inexpensive.

The likes of YouTube have opened up a completely new platform that allows for new creative and engaging experiences.

5. Free newspapers are seen as a disposible commodity. What value do they have for PRs and their clients?

The free press has huge value and I’ve seen some excellent free publications. Shortlist is a great read and also has a website. So you pick it up, read it, find it amusing and then go into work and log on. The fact it’s available in two formats means it has incredible value and has a real role to play.

And don’t forget, the freebies have massive penetration among highly targeted audiences. What we will see more of is segregation of the media, catering for specific readerships.

Metro is for Londonders who want to know where are the best places to go, films to see etc.  It focuses on fun and entertainment giving readers the opportunity quickly to find out where to go and what’s hot. Packaged around this, its news is almost a readers digest of stories.

Meanwhile Shortlist is aimed a male audience and it is segregation like this that I think we are going to see more of.

6. 2007 has seen an explosion in digital platforms which to date have been undervalued by clients. Will we see a change of attitude in 2008?

I think we’ll see the beginnings of a turnaround in 2008. The problem is that in-house marketing  and communications directors need to prove the value of online PR to CEOs and it’s not something they’ve thought enough about.

The good thing is that the web is completely measurable and we can be exact in the coverage and changed behaviours achieved. With SEO we can examine and quantify what people are looking at, where they are going and what they are doing. And the real advantage is it happens in real time.

Some strategists forget about online channels, others ignore it. The thing is, it should never be a ‘either’ traditional ‘or’ online. It is and/and.

7. What is the top priority for your agencies in 2008?

We’re aiming to carry on building critical mass around integrated campaigns involving more digital work and we are working harder to demonstrate ROI in this area..

Also, we’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff at the frontiers of digital but now need to make many of these activities more mainstream.
8. What most excites you the most about the potential media landscape in 2008?

I’m very excited with the continuing rapid evolution of the internet - there’s more to think about, more opportunities to allow for more creative approaches.

The age of 360 degree “public” relations has truly arrived - rather than simply thinking about press relations. Now is the time where the only limit is your imagination.

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