A while ago, I teased Rich Leigh, author of Myths of PR: All Publicity is Good Publicity and Other Popular Misconceptions (Business Myths), to write a piece on a related topic:
Why do you think this is the most exciting time in history for communicators?
Several days later, Rich told me that while he’d be happy to accept the challenge, he admitted he might need to approach it from a different angle.
The problem? He didn’t believe PR was really experiencing or entering any kind of “golden days.”
After a while, we both failed to produce anything, and Rich’s feedback was:
So, I was writing—and have been writing—but it just seems so… negative!
In the end, nothing about how this has been such a great or terrible time for communication specialists ever materialized.
Undaunted, I thought I’d try my hand at answering the question.
And please feel free to share your thoughts, as well.
Perhaps Rich will chime in, too! (What do you say, Rich?)
If you follow what’s happening lately (i.e., fake news, slashed marketing budgets, difficulty contacting the media, measuring the effectiveness of PR efforts, professional competency, network agency crisis, etc.), you might say this hasn’t been a very good time for communicators.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why you may think this way.
Right out of the gate, two developments are clouding the issue.
Past and Present Media Aren’t the Same Thing
Did you know America now has nearly five PR pros for every single reporter?
And there are fewer traditional journalists every year.
On the other hand, we have witnessed a spike in the number of online publishers.
There has also been an increase in the number of brands producing their own content.
But who do these brands prefer for the job? The answer: journalists.
They’ve been accepting the challenge more and more often, realizing they could use their know-how and skills to make more money.
We’re All Influencers
A communicator’s job is no longer just about reaching out to reporters.
“Media” includes authors and creators from YouTube or Instagram, as well as independent bloggers who gain audience trust and influence their purchasing decisions.
But to maintain that “PR expert” status, communicators must continually update and improve their skills.
There is no shortage of challenges in the industry.
And let’s be honest, this isn’t plain sailing.
Technology continues to develop. You can feel AI breathing down your neck.
Many communicators don’t have a direct line to decision-makers.
And clients demand not only media relations support but also digital-, social media-, and content marketing-based strategies.
Publications such as the State of the Profession 2018 report feature a special chapter addressing these concerns: “Challenges Facing the Industry.”
I find this approach particularly appealing. This is what challenges are for, aren’t they? To be faced and addressed.
Source: CIPR, State of the Profession 2018
This is exactly why I think this has been a great time for the communications industry.
Without incentives pushing us to change our attitudes, we would stay put.
The issue our UK-based colleagues highlight in challenge five—”Not being seen as a professional discipline”—could prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don’t keep trying to improve.
That said, what may appear on the surface to be a problem is really an incredible opportunity.
That’s is extremely exciting!
Communication isn’t One-to-One, it’s One-to-Many
What does this mean for you?
By changing the way you normally see things, you’ll open up to new channels and opportunities for reaching the final consumer.
Earned media—your bread and butter—is only a fraction.
Try to design your communication based on integrated media (PESO Model).
And while you’re at it, it won’t hurt to change your attitude toward reporters. Outbound doesn’t always work (at least by itself), so do inbound PR, as well.
Create and Distribute Your Content
You don’t need any media intermediaries to publish stuff online. You can create and distribute content on your own.
They are transforming towards becoming content authors.
Edelman employs 300 people responsible for producing content and claims to have a natural gift for it.
From John Clinton, former North American creative chief, Edelman:
It has become about producing not just good content, but content that people will want to share. So despite everybody jumping to claim the market, PR firms have an edge because they have always had to earn attention, while ad agencies have bought attention.
Publicis has expanded its expertise through the acquisition of existing organizations (they recently bought content marketing shop, August).
Praytell, a young PR agency, has decided to launch its own studio (Praytell Films) to produce video content.
Just think how much easier it is to design communication campaigns with own media at your disposal.
Technology is on Your Side
The times when you had to prove the value of your work by including AVEs in client reports are long gone.
Today, new technology lets you manage communication efforts through an online media center, and shows which releases get the most coverage, volume and frequency of downloads, which release titles bring most conversion, and which of your journalist contacts are active, and who to follow up with.
CRM tools support teamwork and media monitoring efforts, look for mentions, and allow for instant responses on social media, while marketing automation tools facilitate your processes.
Others help in designing and planning.
That’s a lot to choose from, not to mention, stay up-to-date with.
Check out this list Stephen Waddington put together. I’m sure you’ll find something which suits your needs.
Crises Spread Faster and Further
The internet provides an opportunity to directly reach users with our message without the need for go-betweens.
But on the other hand, it makes the bad news we want to put out immediately spread even quicker, like wildfire.
Only PR-related skills like the ability to find diplomatic solutions, establish and nurture relationships, and put conversations on the right track can stop this avalanche from destroying a brand’s image.
Digital’s Not as Scary as Everyone Says
The PRCA’s Digital PR and Communications Report 2017 shows that both client- and agency-side communicators are interested in receiving more training in digital engagement. And they admit their confidence in measuring digital PR isn’t as high as it used to be.
What are the things they struggle with the most?
Pay-per-click campaigns, content optimization, creating videos and graphics, getting in touch with influencers via social media.
Despite this, the campaigns leading the way in competitions such as the Cannes Lions prove that PR specialists have a superb feel for digital.
So, if we follow this by boosting hard skills, we’re on the right track.
We are marketing and communicating in a digital world, and that requires both in-house professionals and agencies to change the way they work.
Opportunity is Knocking for Communicators
Perhaps you could add more points to this list.
However, I do hope that regardless of whether you believe this is the worst or the best time for communications professionals, you will agree with me in saying that opportunity is knocking.
Think of the problems we’re facing today as challenges. And act.
It’s the only way to change anything.