The practice of PR as it was when I first started in the industry has changed in every way. In the US the narrative around PR and communications has been evolving for some time. In the UK however, among agencies and in-house teams, the acknowledgment that we cannot continue in the same vein has not yet really hit home.
It’s our job as experts in communications to adapt to the fact that we are living in a different world with new rules. Those who fail to embrace this fundamental cultural shift will struggle both to retain clients and get the results they promise at pitches.
Commercial alignment and the need to demonstrate value against commercial objectives is more important than ever. It is a myth to say that PR impact is unproven – properly implemented and aligned with corporate targets and crucially with board level buy-in, PR results in a positive tangible impact.
The rules for the new world order in communications:
1. The press release is defunct
For some time now we have been taking a different approach with media. Yes, we do still draft and issue news style copy to secure coverage – in the form of a client-approved press release – especially in highly regulated sectors. But it’s often not the most effective go-to solution to get clients attention.
Instead, we formulate ideas, concepts, angles and packages. We then work collaboratively with media contacts to secure content commissions through a range of channels.
2. Audience-informed strategies
Some of our best, high impact results come from third party generated content. Known as blogger outreach, contact programmes, ambassador programmes, case studies – whatever fancy name you want to attach to this work – talking to end users as a priority produces a stronger and more authentic output of coverage. Human interest, first person stories are a must for external campaigns – the experience of the end user or consumer has much more value than the quote from the client.
3. PR is not ‘free’ anymore
PR and media coverage/editorial has been seen by many as ‘free’ coverage. Of course, it’s not ever free as someone needs to actually develop and place the story – and that time costs money either as a salary or an agency fee.
The advertising and PR worlds have converged – ad teams have cottoned on to this and are encroaching on PR territory which requires greater collaboration across both disciplines. Editorial without investment in the form of paid content, native advertising or social media ad support will not generate the same stand out results that clients need to justify investment.
4. Thought leadership is the new PR
Positioning clients and people behind brands as influencers is not new. What is new is how this is done and the enhanced range of skills needed by nominated thought leaders to create impact. Known as ‘executive branding’, thought leadership strategies are far more effective than old school media relations campaigns. Thought leadership as a concept is already bandied around extensively but few really understand what it actually is or how to achieve it. Budget allocation alongside advising clients how to do this is becoming a higher priority.
5. Creativity is today’s communications currency
We all say we’re creative but being creative is a ‘way of being’ not a statement of fact. We invest heavily in time to really research and create innovative content and ideas for clients. One truly strong idea or story executed well over a few months is more powerful than a 12-month programme of regular press releases. Creativity extends to visual representation of ideas – video, image and picture led campaigns should be key tools in the marketing arsenal – they are no longer an add on.
We’re honest and open with our clients. It’s not their reputations that are on the line if a story is poor – it’s ours, and in the new world of PR, the power of reputation is stronger than ever.