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The Evolution of PR Thinking

AdVSPrRecently a group of senior PR agency colleagues gathered for a conversation about changes in our industry and what PR professionals need to do to remain competitive. The consensus was that advertising, though badly disrupted by digital and social media, was doing a better job of reinventing itself than our industry.

The news isn’t all bad. In a 2013 survey of 2000 marketing communications students, 70 percent said they believe that public relations thinking will dominate  among marketing and ad agencies within the next 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, and it’s of the next generation of marketers in Europe, not the U.S., but it’s a comprehensive one, and these are surely marketing’s future leaders.

But the survey, and the discussion, begs the question of what public relations does better than any other marketing discipline. And the growth of PR’s influence hinges largely on the new generation of marketers, like those who were surveyed.

Here’s how public relations needs to measure up.

Adding value. We’ve been conditioned to do this for journalists, 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. As we all know, jargon-stuffed press releases and overly branded messages are being supplanted by stories, complete with those classic storytelling elements of conflict, drama, and emotion.

Influence. Whether to change opinion, shape an image, or urge action, influence is the essence of public relations. It’s not what we say, it’s how we influence others’ own content, sharing, and behavior.  This is very different from the paid media mentality, and it’s how the PR investment should be measured.

Trust. The gap between what consumers believe when companies talk about themselves (8%) and when social contacts talk about the company (80%) is huge.

Of course, these attributes aren’t unique to those trained in public relations. And maybe that’s the point. The “new” marketing isn’t about PR, or social media, or world-of-mouth marketing. Maybe the PR mindset really means forgetting about channels or disciplines or labels and focusing on quality communications of the most powerful, meaningful and relevant stories.

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