The past five years or so have seen drastic changes in the media and cultural landscape that impact PR and marketing. Challenges for PR practitioners include a faster-than-ever news cycle and what seems like constant political and cultural controversy. Combine that with an erosion of faith in government and private institutions, and it can make for a difficult environment. How to navigate the media landscape when “fake news” accusations are thrown around and the very business of media is under siege?
Yet the business of public relations is thriving. One reason is that PR is more relevant – and valuable – than ever. Here’s why.
According to the Cision State of the Media Report 59 percent of U.S. consumers say they are suspicious of news content. And on social platforms, skepticism is far greater, as it should be. This is bad news, but it means that the credibility of media and information sources is more important than in the past.
The good news is that the public seems to value the role of journalism, and people are moving to media channels they trust. Traditional news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported double-digit increases, and cable news ad revenue is up a whopping 25%. PR practitioners understand that a brand or personal reputation built through bylined content, executive speeches, legitimate user reviews, and media profiles will earn the credibility that comes from implied endorsement by recognized third parties. That beats self-promotion every time.
PR’s role goes beyond earned media coverage, but it’s still an essential piece of many PR campaigns. Established publications that link to a brand will boost search listings due to their domain authority, and ever since Google determined that brand mentions are “implied links,” they work harder to drive SEO. Anyone who has managed a content marketing program understands high-quality, “evergreen” content can live for years, pushing up page rank and attracting traffic for a brand or business.
Beyond earned media, typical PR tactics build relationships, engage influencers, and even help change public perception and behavior. PR skills once used exclusively in media relations are easily transferred to social community management, influencer relations, and content marketing. Word-of-mouth PR spread on social media platforms is not only cost-effective, but highly trackable and persuasive.
Publisher panic over ad blocking has largely receded, but the number of blocked impressions on mobile is growing as browsing migrates more and more to mobile devices. I’m not among those who think the trend is good for PR people — it doesn’t take much to realize that what’s bad for digital content providers is also bad for our industry. Ad-blocking cuts revenue for digital publishers at a time when they need it most. Yet PR programs that generate visibility through earned and owned content are more valuable than ever during times of digital marketing disruption.
Today, the outcomes of a PR program are more measurable than they’ve ever been, thanks to a concerted effort by the industry, but also to digital tools. Of course, metrics will always vary by program, but even with simple (and free) tools like Google trends and access to web analytics, we can often pinpoint the impact of earned and owned content and social sharing with a fair degree of accuracy. We have one client, a digital business service, who has found that their business profitability coincides almost perfectly with peaks in web analytics driven by earned media.
What is more valuable than a brand (or personal) reputation? Many PR deliverables are powerful in building reputation over time, and their impact is accelerated and amplified by social media. A glowing review (or unfortunate video interview) can blow up on social platforms in the time it takes to say, “call the PR firm.” It’s hard to put a price tag on customer loyalty or positive perception, but in today’s unpredictable media environment, it’s like money in the bank.
What we do to generate earned media is not always efficient, and it has traditionally been hard to scale. But many agencies have added capabilities in content marketing, digital content creation, and brand journalism that can amplify earned media or add to its impact through shareable content. Automation has changed intelligence-gathering and data analysis, which often informs a PR program’s messaging and content.