Gini Dietrich

The Future of PR: It’s Our Time to Lead

By: Gini Dietrich | May 2, 2013 | 

The Future of PR: It's Our Time to LeadAt the Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference, I kicked off the day yesterday with a keynote on the future of PR.

I pulled out my magic 8 ball and we peered into it to figure out what the industry is going to look like five years from now.

It turns out, while the magic 8 ball isn’t so good for open-ended questions, when I asked it if it could help us figure out the future, it said yes.

The future is now. It’s not five years from now. It’s not three years from now. It’s happening right now and if you don’t learn the new skills needed to keep up, you’ll eventually be left behind.

If you read this blog a lot, you know I’m a big fan of continuing education, expanding our skills, and working with other disciplines to learn about the things we don’t already know.

Quick Note on Metrics

What I discovered yesterday, though, is the majority of bosses and clients still want us (the royal us) to report media impressions and advertising equivalencies as results. This makes me sad because those things really mean nothing, but I understand it’s our fault. We were working so hard to find a way to demonstrate our effectiveness, we came up with something that – at the time – was revolutionary.

It no longer works.

Yes, if your boss or client wants you to report your efforts that way, do it. But also begin to educate them on how to measure your program’s effectiveness through things the really matter: Increased leads, increased sales, increased grant money, or even increased traffic if you’re paying attention to who the new visitors are and they mean something to your organization.

What is PR?

But, before we talked about the future of PR and the metrics that really matter, I asked the audience to describe to me what they do for a living.

I got everything from travel and getting people in the newspaper to reputation management and Olivia Pope from Scandal (and then we talked about how great her clothes are, but that’s another topic for another day).

The point being, of course, it’s impossible to clearly define what we do and, depending on our role inside an organization or with an agency, it could change every day.

BUT (big but here) it’s important to note there is one overriding theme: It’s our time to lead.

The Future of PR

For most of my career, I’ve listened to the higher-ups complain that we don’t have a seat at the table.

In this new world in which we live – where data and metrics allow us to prove our worth in language that makes sense to the executives – we can have that seat at the table.

It’s our time to lead.

  • It’s time to provide our clients or bosses with advice on how to communicate in the new landscape. This is up to us. They read the paper, they watch television, they hear their colleagues talking about it. It’s up to use to educate them on what the new landscape means to the organizations they are running.
  • Know how to use all of the media types: Paid, shared, owned, and earned. The big shift with the large agencies is to bring all of the media types under one roof. FleishmanHillard is the latest to do this so you’ll soon see a hybrid professional who knows how to do all four. We’ve been doing this for three years. If you join our team, you already have to be a hybrid communicator.
  • Stop thinking about ourselves as non-creative types. We talk a lot about this here so I won’t belabor the point. But, we tend to think of our partner ad agencies as the creative ones because they make the pretty pictures and have the snappy taglines. But we think on our feet constantly and we are always finding solutions to challenges that never before existed. We are creative.
  • Understand data and use it to drive our decisions. There are places you can learn online – for free – about data if you don’t understand it. My favorite is Coursera, but Mitch Joel occasionally writes about it so be sure you’re subscribed to his blog.
  • Be willing to experiment and take risk. This is a really big one. You may not work in (or with) an organization that is willing to let you take risk. If that’s the case, find a new job. With today’s technology changing as quickly as it does and, because it’s our job to test all the latest and greatest tools, if your bosses or clients won’t let you do that, you are going to find yourself pigeon-holed in a career you can’t grow. I’m a big fan of asking for forgiveness.
  • And, for heaven’s sakes, measure our efforts to real business goals. Yes, I know there are some soft metrics, such as brand awareness and reputation, that matter. But as you educate about those things, you also must provide real, hard numbers that show how your efforts are helping the organization grow. Without it, we won’t be leading.

If you’d like to take a look at my slides from yesterday, I’ve embedded them for you below (or you can find them by clicking here). But, keep in mind, most of them are pictures and won’t make a lot of sense without my narration.

As well, Matt Wilson at PR Daily did a nice summary of the keynote.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think is the future of PR?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • My Friend on the Path. Congratulations to you for always pushing the envelope to encourage our peers to change it up already. While we are making great strides in re-professionalizing and re-invigorating PR with digital and social marketing, our clients, absolutely, have grown to expect less.
    It is our continued duty to educate that we in PR are highly skilled professionals who cross boundaries and bring so much more than a media impression. Thanks for saying, writing and being who you are for the industry.

    • Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Whenever I speak to groups of communicators, I’m always shocked at how the industry is NOT advancing as fast as we think it should. There are lots of us out there talking about it and forging the path, but most of our peers are still standing at the entrance of the path, huddled together, and daring the first person to step out there. It both frustrates and invigorates me.

  • I am so delighted with your inclusion of creativity in solving business problems. The ability to think creatively and to think on our feet is essential in developing effective solutions for clients and even in navigating this fast changing and uber-connected world of ours. I’m sorry I could see the keynote. I’m sure you were magnificent, my friend.

    • allenmireles They recorded it if you want to put yourself through the pain of listening to me yet one more hour.

      • ginidietrich allenmireles It was hardly painful.

  • I don’t think I’m a creative type. And I suck at data (though I think I’ve improved). That said – even at my advanced age – I’m always learning – every single day. Stop learning and you die.

    • belllindsay You are VERY creative. You are always the one to say, “Have you considered this or that” during team brainstorms. I think we get in this groove of saying we’re not creative because we can’t paint or draw or create music. That’s bull.

  • I don’t think I’m a creative type when it comes to graphics and visuals, but I write enough to be creative in that department. If i wasn’t, there’s no way I’d be able to come up with ideas on a daily basis of topics to write about. And we all know I hate data but it is interesting and I’m learning to give it a chance. I agree with belllindsay to learn every single day…stop learning and you die.

    • yvettepistorio I WILL LEARN YOU IF IT KILLS ME!

  • I don’t know if this is so much “the future” as something that should have been happening all along but is now intensified by the current environment. But I think now more than ever it’s important to understand your customers (or your client’s customers) from their perspective. For example, my non profit (that does children’s health insurance via the SCHIP program) has an outside firm. The firm does fine but I’d bet good money (or at least a nice shiny new big green pen) that they would be even more effective if they sat in our call center for  aday to hear enrollees’ issues and how they see the program. I enjoyed this blog, Gini.

    • biggreenpen I’m surprised they’ve never asked to sit in the call center for a day. We always ask to do those things or ride with the sales reps at least once a quarter to learn more.

  • The same changes are going on with marketing and advertising. One of TWBA’s clients beat Google for a Webby Award. I tweeted ‘Bet neither the award nor the work was measured on whether it helped sell vs how cool or cute it was’. The Chief Creative Dude said ‘sales and branding’ but in tweets with him in the past he views Branding as what Advertising is about. It is why Pepsi fell hard because they do their ads.
    What is going to happen is the playing field is going to start to level with the agencies that bring in more data and proof of results now that tools exist can start taking business from the entrenched interests that made their money really just spending clients money. The response of ‘You can’t measure what we do’ doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Howie Goldfarb I agree with your measurement statement. I also think you’re right about leveling the playing field. We saw this before the dot com bubble burst. Hopefully it sticks this time.

  • susancellura

    This piece, “…measure your program’s effectiveness through things the really matter: Increased leads, increased sales, increased grant money, or even increased traffic if you’re paying attention to who the new visitors are and they mean something to your organization.”  It’s funny. I keep pushing – nudging, rather – to do this, and am told “we’re not there yet”. I scratch my head over that one. How can we not be there yet? 
    I am doing it anyway as I prefer to be part of the overall success versus an order-taker for communications.

    • susancellura That makes me shake my head, too. Good for you for continuing to push it. Even if you’re not there yet, you’ll prove you are and be the winner. I want you to win!

      • susancellura

        ginidietrich Thank you!

  • I have to chime in that it’s not just PR. Every industry that deals with, you know, people has to wake up and smell the creativity and new measurement. If you’re not on top of it, your competition will be.

    • jeanniecw We were talking about this at dinner the other night. A colleague said, “I don’t understand why people don’t just read.” Um, because they don’t. Those of us who are willing to continue to learn are who will win.

      • Kato42

        ginidietrich jeanniecw I don’t understand why people don’t read either. Boggles my mind. What’s the point of living if you’re not learning?

        • Kato42 ginidietrich jeanniecw So true. Things have changed so much, but so many of our clients still do things the same old way. There is a big proliferation of marketing mix models, which cannot account for how much marketing/PR/branding/customer service has changed. The companies that embrace new metrics and stop holding their employees to archaic models to hit their bonuses will come out on top.

  • Kato42

    Gini, I love that you talk about both creativity and metrics here. That combination is what lured me away from web design (all that coding!) into the communications world in the first place. 
    I think you’ve actually provided a pretty good rundown on what we need to be on top of as our careers progress: keep learning, keep current with new technologies, keep revising how we measure our success, and for Pete’s sake, prove that we’re actually doing something for the organization’s bottom line – whether that bottom line is dollars, or more mosquito nets in Africa, or whatever. (I’ve done a lot of work in not-for-profits).
    They won’t give us a seat at the big table until they believe that they need us there. It’s often a hard sell, though, so I’d add “perseverance” and “listening” to your list. Keep listening to your organization and figure out what their “currency” is so you can use that metric to prove your value, and don’t expect it to work the first (or seventh) time. Minds can be difficult to change.

    • Kato42 I just finished doing some coding on a client’s website (don’t ask) so I TOTALLY get what you’re saying. Speaking of mosquito nets, wasn’t World Malaria Day last week?

      • Kato42

        ginidietrich Kato42 I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I had to look this up… but yes, World Malaria Day was on April 25th.

        • Kato42 Ha! I only knew because I got a text from them asking for a donation.

  • AVE’s are the zombies of the PR world.  Unfortunately, they have no head to shoot off.  
    I love what you said about being creative.  I got into a particularly heated discussion with a creative director from Leo Burnett during a Northwestern tailgate last year when he stated that PR’s would never thrive in the new marketing dynamic because we lack creativity.  I agree that PR people have to be the ones to change the perception because other disciplines are happy to perpetuate the image that we aren’t capable of creativity.

    • HeatherTweedy I’m not sure I disagree with the creative director. We HAVE to start seeing ourselves as creatives first. Until then…he’s right.

  • ElissaFreeman

    Such an important post – especially the measurement piece.; It’s almost as if you want a client who ‘doesn’t know any better’ so you can train them from the beginning. Eg., with one client I asked how many educational materials moved after a particular campaign. Since they track that kind of thing thing, they saw a huge spike – and that meant more to them than reach numbers…

    • ElissaFreeman I love the clients who don’t know any better! You know the last time we were asked for media impressions and AVEs? 2007. So when our peers tell me their clients are still asking for them, it floors me.

  • Why is all of this SOOO important? Because the pace of change is so fast. And the really big one for me is the hybrid communicator. I’m not a PR pro, so I have a lens that looks at the PR profession and wonders whether it can stand up and take on board the integrated comms skills that require content marketing, SEO, analytics, working cohesively with advertisers, etc.
    At a conference last year a global PR leader asked why Management Consultants can charge 4 times the fees that PR pro’s can? (not as they are a threat, just for comparison) I think it requires a transformational shift in delivering strategic business value for PR pro’s to even remain in the game never mind catch up.

    • HughAnderson To your point, I think a few things are going on here: 1) By nature, PR pros are not analytical (hate math); 2) Most don’t go into business for themselves nor ever have to run a P&L so they never understand the strategic business value – really understand it; and 3) We’ve always gotten away with “measuring” the soft metrics and, with the exception of the P&Gs of the world, no one is requiring anything more.

      • ginidietrich You’re right, but I think in the next couple of years the “KPI” analytics are going to become simpler and easier to grab hold of – which makes it easier for PR’s to get their heads around it, and easier for the non-P&G’s of the world to measure something valuable.

        • HughAnderson I hope you’re right. It makes me crazy that day isn’t here already.

  • andreacook

    It doesn’t matter what you do, PR or non-PR, every professional must exemplify the ability to lead especially in today’s era of rapid change.
    I agree with you Gina that any professional who is charged with marketing or business development should follow these tips. – Andrea Cook

    • andreacook You’re absolutely right, Andrea. I focus on PR here because that’s what we do, but you’re absolutely right.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Now if we could just get the Magic 8 ball to give us free lattes!

  • ginidietrich I love how visual your presentation is. Almost no words at all!

    Interesting debate about creativity. I’ve always felt that one of the problems in PR is that, unlike in advertising, “creative” and “accounts” are not separate functions. PR people have to be both, which is very, very hard to do and why so many PR people are miserable. They’re closet creatives who have to manage spreadsheets and go to meetings all day, or they’re great at running accounts but can’t write or create their way out of a paper bag. A few firms have creative heads or editorial departments, but it seems PR could benefit from going more toward the advertising agency model.
    As usual, this comment is kind of tangential …

    • RobBiesenbach Thanks Rob! I hate death by PowerPoint when speakers read their slides to the audience. I use slides only to make a point.
      REALLY interesting thought, actually. You might be right. If you had the account team and then the creative team, PR firms might get more accomplished.

      • ginidietrich RobBiesenbach I agree with Rob. In the few
        large organizations I’ve worked with, I find that communications
        functions are broken up a bit more and it’s easier for folks to find a
        niche (although the measurement side of communications remained irritatingly elusive). 
        I actually disliked working in those organizations
        because I typically only got to do one thing (writing OR web
        design/analytics OR event planning etc.) and what I like about
        communications is the variety of skill sets I get to use. Of
        course, I don’t pretend to be a PR expert and have never worked in a “PR
        firm” (specifically because they-to date-haven’t offered the opportunity
        to keep using my varied skill sets).

  • ceanburgeson

    Great piece Gini. Dead on.

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