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It never fails to surprise me when I hear a company say, “We have a separate PR agency as well as our digital agency”. How on earth has the sector been divided like this when PR is the natural fit for digital. Communication suffers when siloed so to deliver it through different agencies compromises its effectiveness from the get go.
PR has long been the poor cousin to advertising and marketing, and it remains the self imposed wallflower in the mix despite the huge opportunities presented by digital. If you were in the industry 20 years ago you would be well aware of the vast changes in corporate communications. The digital revolution has impacted communications massively and the opportunities for all that have come from it are bountiful.
But why is it that so many PR’s – either freelancers or corporates – have failed to fully realise the natural transition of the sector into digital? They say he who hesitates is lost and my industry seems to have taken up residence in the communications abyss. For those who have taken the leap, the rewards within the industry are proving to be very lucrative and successful for client and practitioner alike.
Why hasn’t PR evolved?
PR has always represented leveraged coverage and engagement. It has been the sector in charge of the key messages and interaction within the conversations between stakeholders, consumers and the public. In short, the PR’s were always the strategists behind the conversation and the storytelling. It’s only natural that PR’s should be providing the direction behind traditional as well as social media and find a natural fit within the inbound marketing fit.
As PR’s clung blindly to the media release and lines-to-take, their nifty counterparts in advertising and marketing have moved into the space which was always a natural fit for PR. PR’s need to take a leaf out of Coke’s book and move out of the old and into the new. The media release as we knew it – communications as we knew it – is dead in the water.
The way I look at it, communications is communications. Know how to do that well and you’re 80% there. Why it’s been so difficult for many of us to convert those comms onto Twitter, Facebook or even Google search rankings, is beyond me.
So who’s taken the space?
PR’s were also the writers and storytellers – why have so many not extended this into blogs or slideshare decks or meme development – any content for that matter?
Advertising peeps moved comfortably into the space, positioning social media communications as a natural fit alongside digital and traditional advertising even though it isn’t. They saw the opportunity and jumped, mainly because they saw the writing on the wall with dwindling revenue streams within their industry, as consumers used social to literally talk amongst themselves. They’ve even positioned themselves as the social research experts. Pretty smart move in my book.
Moving with the times
While traditional media, issues and crisis management, and stakeholder engagement does not directly transcribe into digital communication, storytelling around these practices, and the ability to hear and respond, remains the same. It is the application in the new space that requires a suitable approach so where were the opportunities to upskill? Professional development is a requirement of every industry and ours is no different. We seemed to have failed at this fundamental requirement as well.
PR associations, representative of the sector, have also struggled with showing thought leadership within the digital space and this has affected the ability to upskill our people. Many of these associations have failed to adequately provided opportunities for life long learning and worse, have been slow to establish a significant presence online.
But the rebalance between online and direct engagement has commenced where more emphasis needs to be placed on the face-to-face interaction or experiential elements of a campaign. The combining of the two facets is a modern day necessity if success is to be achieved. And here lies the opportunity for PR’s to get fully entrenched in the main game. To miss out a second time will see out industry made redundant sooner rather than later and, as a lover of great interaction and a longtime PR professional myself, I don’t want to see this happen.
Find me on twitter @libbyfordham
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