Every day, we see the many changes that the post-digital age brings to business. New industries are springing up, consumer habits are changing, and industries we are accustomed to, are evolving at an accelerated rate. The public relations industry is not any different.
With a history as far back as 50 B.C., the business of public relations has become a legacy business. The key problem with legacy businesses operating in the new age is that they are quickly becoming obsolete. There are schools of thought arguing for or against public relations becoming obsolete. The truth is that perception and reputation will always have to be managed. Relationships with customer segments and key stakeholder groups will always have to be considered and executed seamlessly. It will be unwise to play the ostrich concerning these changes. The industry will require a continuous re-invention to remain relevant to the evolving organizational structures and changing consumer habits. The ‘how’ of public relations is threatened by new industries, a new workforce of the future, and clients’ changing requirements which is largely influenced by the changes in the marketplace.
Like with most other businesses, public relations companies would have to keep doing the nuts and bolts work at the core of the trade. But they also have to be ready and agile enough to compete in a fast-changing environment, one that’s almost hard to predict. Prior to the digital age, traditional public relations practices consisted of the creation and distribution of press releases, trade show participation, and relationship building through philanthropic efforts and press agentry to gain media exposure. Companies focused more on disseminating information to the public than on the how or why. Measuring results proved difficult as well. The technological boom has redefined the roles public relations professionals perform within an organization and how results are being measured.
In spite of the changes the digital age has brought, there are some core fundamentals of PR that haven’t and will likely never change. Excellent storytelling, great relationships, and a strong brand identity have always been and will always be essential, but how they are put to use has been forever altered.
Some of these alterations currently waver between small and big changes. To make changes today, however, there are three key practices that PR practitioners must be in tune with.
The first is the Dynamism of the modern media landscape. What this means is that what was once a small, consistent and niche group has ballooned. Beyond influential core news platforms, talkability and buzz leveraging new media tactics are increasingly important. News channels have expanded to include social media, blogs, and even comedy shows. Every single touchpoint of a story has become a channel for information dissemination. PR practitioners must stay in tune with this and expand their horizon beyond media contacts. Modern PR teams have to keep track of who is writing, talking, tweeting, and making videos about relevant topics. It can help you target just the right pitch with pertinent content for each person who might be in the position to share your brand’s messages.
The second key practice today’s PR practitioner must stay in tune with is Measuring Impact and Return on Investment. Before the digital boom, measuring the success and impact of PR was very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that many brands simply didn’t do it. PR was seen largely as a nice to have cost element that didn’t in any way tie back to revenue. While that was the general perception, it was not true. Being consistently seen and heard meant that a business was building momentum in the minds of customers and key stakeholder groups, keeping them top of mind when it came to their area of operation. Unfortunately, there was little to no metric to prove this.
The Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) measurement metric became commonplace as a way to measure public relations value. AVE refers to the cost of buying the space taken up by a particular article, had the article been an advert. This measurement meant that PR executives would sit with a ruler and a bundle of newspapers to measure the size and space in column inches, of a piece of coverage and match that to the measure of the equivalent of advertising. Today, AVE festers as a public relations metric. Though, AVEs are still valid today, they are slowly changing. Communication Directors and PR managers in organizations are now constantly asking the question, ‘What does this really mean for our company?’
What this means for PR practitioners today is that the measurement of PR must be related to a campaign’s objectives, key messages, sentiment and what these mean for how an organization is perceived. The ability for PR practitioners to track the behavior of people who connect, act or react to a story changes the game. Thanks to digital, PR outcomes can be measured based on a number of metrics including website traffic, reach, impressions and audience reactions.
The third key practice for today’s PR practitioner is Analytics and Reporting. Based on the need to measure ROI, the modern PR report is swiftly moving from being activity-based to becoming outcome-based. Spreadsheets are rapidly giving way to interactive PR reports that analyze a client’s share of voice and the general sentiment across industries. Company Executives can now get a real-time look into the impact of PR without any time wasted. What this means for PR practitioners is that if they do not heed the validation of the power of analytics tie to what their clients want, they will clearly be at a disadvantage.
The implication of these changes combined is that there are more opportunities for PR professionals to disseminate and expand communications for clients using different elements and channels such as events, experientials, videography, social media, digital, infographics; all of which before now were majorly a prerogative of advertising and marketing functions. There has never been a one-size fits all approach, and so the industry continually evolves to meet the changing needs of clients and their audiences as well as leverage the new and emerging channels available to reach these audiences.
More so, the function of public relations is largely storytelling. Media results, web traffic and sales leads that clients demand are largely dependent on compelling storytelling skills, which is strategic and deliberate in aligning communication with the organization’s objectives. Public relations professionals will continue to tailor messages for individual audiences as well as identify platforms through which to reach them.
It is clear that PR is changing a great deal and will become more important than ever, helping individuals, brands and organizations manage their communication to inform, engage and persuade even in this post digital age. These point to the fact that, like the proverbial fine wine, PR practitioners will need to keep getting better at the job with creative, out of the box thinking that helps in delivering communication solutions to clients.
Interestingly also, current statistics shows that the biggest population of internet users are aged between 18 and 49 years, a majority of whom are millennials. We are talking about a globally growing population of millennials whom the old tactics of public relations do not serve. These are people who are increasingly becoming weary of what they read, advertisements they see, and are not easily swayed. How then do PR practitioners catch and sustain their attention and convince them to take action? To answer the question, the future of PR will have to entail more dependence on balancing data with creativity – an approach that has long strengthened PR campaigns to predict future trends, identify new audiences and ensure programmes are engaging and interesting.