Both the practice and business of public relations has grown enormously in recent years. The Holmes Report estimates the global PR industry at $14.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in 2014. It’s expected to reach $20 billion by the year 2020. And as PR budgets have increased, the day-to-day practice of public relations has changed.
A PR agency employee starting in the business today will be creating programs, telling stories, and reporting to clients in ways very different from just a few years ago, in part due to the rise of digital technology and the blurring of lines between paid, earned, and owned media.
Here are the top “new rules” resulting from trends that affect PR professionals in the digital age.
Top Trends Affecting Today’s PR Professionals
Content, particularly visual content, is key. Today’s PR programs are less about selling and more about telling….stories that engage prospective customers or partners. We still tell plenty of stories through editorial media, but the old days of email blasts and “smile-and-dial” tactics are over. The smartest PR professionals help product or service companies identify their most powerful differentiators, shape a narrative, and tell their story where it counts. Breaking through with quality material will become more difficult as content marketing approaches a saturation point. As PR measurement guru Katie Paine puts it, “The people brands are trying to reach simply will ignore everything most companies spew.”
PR today is about SEO. If PR is all about content, it follows that SEO is a critical item in the PR practitioner’s toolbox. Any PR pro who lacks basic SEO and web analytics knowledge should seek additional training, even if it’s basic free background like Moz’s analytics tutorial. When it comes to content, quality and relevance have replaced sheer quantity as a key metric. To be shareable, content must be optimized, so fluency in SEO basics is a necessary skill.
Thought leadership isn’t just for B2B brands. B2B executives in professional or technology services have long distinguished themselves by linking their corporate brand to a compelling idea or point of view. But today so-called “thought leadership” is also relevant to consumer product companies. The explosion of digital and social media has made every factor of corporate reputation―from customer service to CEO behavior―relevant to brand image, and therefore to PR. Even consumer brands need to position themselves and their companies as leaders. They must offer ideas and inspiration, not just great products and services. That means more PR professionals are at work on executive visibility and content programs and reputation management is built into every program.
PR is about “influence.” Chris Graves, Ogilvy Public Relations chairman and chair of the PR Council, describes PR’s essence as “earned influence” due to the crucial role that relationships play in driving engagement. Some confuse influence with popularity, but the two are not the same. Just because someone has a large social following or a high Q score doesn’t mean they are influential. Not only that, but the way we go about generating influence has changed. A survey of 500 PR and marketing professionals found that 82 per cent are using influencers to help get their story out, and many in that group are engaging social media personalities.
Back in the day, we rented a TV entertainer or book author for a product launch. Now the use of social or digital influencers far outstrips promotional deals with more “traditional” TV or film celebrities.
The lines between paid and earned media are blurring. One of our most important tasks is content creation, but with the explosion of digital content, distribution is more important than ever. Yet it’s nearly impossible to achieve scale with so-called organic content. The most successful campaigns are driven through paid content distribution tools or tactics, so today’s PR person must be well versed in social optimization tools and tactics.
Press releases are obsolete. Well, not really, but they’re used far less than they once were, and with good reason. To make the most of a newsworthy announcement, it’s better to offer it as an “exclusive,” or first-use basis, to a key media outlet, and then distribute it broadly for maximum pickup. Paid newswire releases should be for announcements that need to get into the public record, since the coverage they generate isn’t likely to be significant. And if the announcement isn’t media worthy to begin with, there’s no reason to do a press release unless it’s for internal marketing, which isn’t a very good reason.
Everything is measurable and measured. The rise of data-driven marketing has been a difficult transition for some PRs because few of us are trained in analytics, and there’s been no industry standard for evaluation of earned media outcomes. But the new rules for PR professionals are catching up. A coalition of professional groups has created guidelines for benchmarking and measuring PR programs, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, there’s plenty of practical advice on how to put those principles into practice.