Commentary

PR Isn't Dead - It's Just Different

According to a recent study from The Holmes Report and the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, nearly 90 percent of PR executives believe the term “public relations” won’t accurately describe what they do in five years. The study also found that, when asked what they believe about the future of PR and marketing communications, 47 percent of PR professionals and 61 percent of marketers think PR will become more closely aligned with marketing.

FleishmanHillard Canada is in the process of merging with agile integrated marketing firm High Road to create a new agency that brings together their respective specialties. While it won’t be finalized until 2018, it’s another signal to industry leaders that PR is moving toward greater alignment with marketing.

Holdouts from the days of traditional siloed PR and marketing initiatives should take note: The reality is that PR and marketing have already aligned, at least among the most effective brand leaders today. And it’s all thanks to the digital and social media revolution.

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Digital content has changed everything. The digital revolution has been underway for years, but this isn’t the tech industry. PR itself moves a little more slowly; we’re just beginning to see how these changes are forcing the industry to evolve in 2018 and beyond.

Audiences today hold the power. With search and social on standby, consumers know what they’re looking for and have the tools to find it; research and experience tell me they’re seeking authenticity from brands, alignment with their personal beliefs, and emotional connections fueled by trust.

If online audiences seek this kind of content and have the power to find it, are traditional PR firms, departments, or leaders prepared to deliver?

The Future of PR Lies in Trust

Historically, the purpose of many PR firms was to use media to control the public narrative and perception of a brand. To that end, industry pioneers developed press releases and pitched their clients relentlessly to any journalist, reporter, or media contact they could to land mentions, features, interviews — you name it.

This exclusively client-centric pitching and media placement worked for some time. But as digital content and social have taken over and handed power to consumers, expectations around authenticity have changed.

Audiences go to sources they trust for information, forcing the definition of “media contact” to expand beyond reporters and journalists to include social media and industry influencers, thought leaders, and contributors to reputable online publications. When audiences reach these sources, they’re looking for more than promotional brand content — they’re looking for genuine value.

Modern PR, then, should be characterized less by the pitching and promoting of clients and more by the ability to deliver value to audiences, contributors, and clients alike.

That focus on audience value, education, and engagement through digital content is essentially the definition of content marketing. For PR to remain relevant and effective in the digital age, industry professionals must embrace these shared goals and align with marketing now.

Many functions of PR are critical to marketing’s success, and vice versa: Marketing will have a hard time reaching new audiences and generating brand awareness without earning some press first, and PR will struggle to sustain itself beyond awareness without marketing’s laser focus on valuable, engaging content over time.

Combining the two elevates each department and ensures a stronger, more cohesive brand experience for audiences. It’s time to drop the relentless client promotion and attempt at control to focus on authenticity, audience value, and engagement; aligning PR and marketing is the clear next step.

 
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