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What Is "PR" Thinking?

According to PR industry newsletter to The Holmes Report, “PR thinking” will dominate marketing communications in future years. That’s meant to be encouraging news for PR pros.

The basis for the forecast is a new survey of 2000 marketing communications students in four European countries. Seventy percent of this “next generation” of marketers say they believe that a PR mindset will dominate among marketing and ad agencies within the decade.

Even more startling, more than 80 percent percent predict the death of specialist shops, like social media or digital. It’s only one survey, but it’s a comprehensive one, and these are surely marketing’s future leaders.

So what is “PR thinking”? The post defines it as the belief that “word-of-mouth and trust for brands is most important.” I would add that for many of us who work in PR, the essence of PR thinking is about generating and using influence. It’s explicit or implied third-party endorsement, – what most of us learned during our first week on the job.

But beyond the survey, there are many, even more compelling reasons why “PR thinking” will continue to dominate marketing communications. One is Google, which rewards content and social sharing and metrics like follows, comments, and views over black-hat SEO tricks.

Another is the obvious struggle of the traditional ad industry to redefine itself and to move towards word-of-mouth marketing and even brand journalism. But here’s my list of the key ingredients.

Adding value. We’re trained to do this for journalists and bloggers, and to help them, in turn, add value for the end user. Today this means quality content. PR standards still aren’t journalism but they’re getting there.

Storytelling. This is a newer trend, but jargon-stuffed press releases and commercial messages are giving way to real stories, complete with conflict, drama, and emotion.

Influence. It’s not what we say, it’s how we influence others’ own content, sharing, and behavior.  This is the heart and soul of PR and very different from the paid media mentality. It is how the PR investment should be measured.

Trust. There is no influence without trust. The gap between what consumers believe when companies talk about themselves (8%) and when those they know talk about the company (80%) is huge.

Relevance. No amount of influence matters if the message isn’t relevant.

Of course, key marketing communications values like relevance aren’t proprietary to those trained in public relations. And that’s the point. The “new” marketing isn’t limited to PR, or social media, or WOM marketing, or any of those.

Maybe “PR thinking” really means forgetting about channels or disciplines or labels. For the digital age, that’s just good marketing.

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