DigitalPR With Celestine Achi: THE FUTURE OF PR: DIGITAL PR PART 2 – 11 DEFINING CHALLENGES

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THE FUTURE OF PR: DIGITAL PR PART 2 – 11 DEFINING CHALLENGES

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


You can buy attention (advertising). You can beg for attention from the media (PR). You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales). Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free

The science and art of PR is about influencing perceptions. As individuals, we build perceptions of the world around us based on the inputs we receive. Those inputs include traditional media, daily experiences, conversations, interactions and more. The term ‘public relations’ is still more or less valid, as PR is ultimately about shaping people’s relationships with organisations. Yet it is also misleading, as today PR entails being involved with every aspect of how people encounter information and make sense of it. It is far more about being engaged in the flow of messages through an intensely networked world than it is about formal communication. The traditional domain of PR is swiftly changing.

Just over 20 years ago, the digital evolution began with Tim-Berners Lee invention of the World Wide Web (Web 1.0) and in the 1990s, the internet took off and reached over 50 million users within four years. 12 years later, the 2nd generation of the web (web 2.0) was created and user generated content took off. Today, the nature of how information and messages flow, and people build perceptions of the world in which they live, is entirely different to how it was just a decade ago. And this is merely the beginning. Traditional media will soon relinquish its role as the primary source of our input about the world. Mass media is becoming relatively marginalised as our world becomes one of multiple and highly varied inputs.

In recent years change has been a conspicuous and constant element of our lives and in all industries and the pace of that change has tangibly accelerated over the last few decades. Globalization, democratization of information, the global financial crisis and the rise of social media have all contributed to this shift and to rethinking existing concepts, values and objectives.

The impact on the communications industry has been considerable, altering the rules and framework conditions and moving us towards a hyper-dependant and hyper-connected world, in which the motto “survival of the fittest” gains new meaning.

PR: Today and Tomorrow:
In the first part of THE FUTURE OF PR: DIGITAL PR - 9 CRITICAL STRATEGIES FOR EVERY PR PROFESSIONAL, I did emphasize some long-term and fundamental game-changers that rapidly and measurably shift our behaviour in new directions; I have in this article assembled more game changers into a Top 11 list.

1. Media is TRANSFORMED
Mass media will never disappear. Societies are bound together by having a common reference point to discuss and engage with. Yet at the same time, media is fragmenting into a multitude of channels and perspectives. The new wave of ‘citizen journalism’ includes blogging, as well as the active contribution of pictures, video, words and ideas to media by their audiences. Already the audience of the most widely read blogs, such as Boing Boing, Gawker, and Engadget, rival or exceed that of the major newspapers’ online presence. Media has become a participatory sport, in which not just journalists, but literally anyone can provide their perspectives on what they are seeing and what is happening. If the content is interesting or they uncover something of note, they can quickly garner a significant audience. From a narrow pool of arbiters of what is newsworthy, is growing a vast array of deeply interlinked news sources and filters.

2. INFLUENCE NETWORKS are at the heart: As mainstream media becomes an ever-smaller part of our information input, organisations need to understand and get involved with the influence networks that really form decisions. People form opinions and make decisions primarily from the input of the people around them that they know well and trust, not from advertising and media.  A number of major PR firms have launched services to identify and access key influencers in any specific domain. PR will become largely about how to identify, access and influence the key influencers, either individually, or by understanding how influence networks are structured.

3. FLEXIBILITY is the name of the game: PR agencies are facing tough competition. The digital shift opened the market for small and agile digital agencies that do not need many resources and are very skilled in social media; the financial crisis has put pressure on clients and on PR budgets, so retainer contracts are infrequent and there is a lot of project business, which does not allow a solid financial projection; good consultants have gotten very expensive for hiring etc. Another driver:
It has been known for many years that PR professionals benefit from having combined knowledge in different areas and that it is not necessary to have specific education in Public Relations to be good at this job. However, as clients are getting increasingly demanding, they expect PR experts to know all about their businesses. This challenges agencies to invest in educating their PR staff or finding the right consultants with specific knowledge. All of these developments have made it necessary for PR agencies to be flexible in every possible way.

4. The OMNI C
HANNEL company: In recent years, the proliferation of digital channels has precipitated seismic shifts in consumer behavior.  We don’t sit down that often to read a newspaper and have a cup of coffee; we rather consume so many things whilst on the move: we read news online, watch videos and movies on our smart phones, order food or groceries via tablets, book and check in flights via the internet, connect with others through social media, and our lifestyles have come to revolve around having this flexible and constant access through many channels.

An omnichannel man demands a seamless customer experience across all channels, at all times. He is even ready to give up brand loyalty, if there is brand that is committed and more convenient. He goes to bed with his smartphone and has breakfast in the company of his tablet (who earlier that morning prepared that same breakfast by ordering it from the restaurant across the street). For us and our clients, this means a wholehearted commitment to being a truly omni channel company.

5. The era of VIDEO PR: It was shocking (but somewhat true), when media gurus announced a few years ago that the traditional press release was dead and has been taken over by its successor – the social media release (SMR). As millions of banners popping out add to the daily din of information stimuli, causing information overload, we tend to focus only on content that is appealing and interesting. And if we look back at the viral campaigns of the past years, we can see that most of them were visual, and presented in form of videos.

6. RESULTS as the only sustainable drivers of our business: PR efforts are measured against circulation, impressions and advertising equivalencies – for a long time, and even today. The bottom line is: the more, the merrier. We are all aware that this is a convention we agreed upon with our clients and stakeholders, as we were bad in measuring what PR can do (this has several reasons).

But it’s just not enough and this is why we keep losing some of our valuable clients, who want to see results and who want to feel that their business is growing. Agencies that adopt a higher level of measurement are going to profit, as clients started questioning this convention a long time ago and have learned there are new ways of keeping an eye on the success rate. It is not by chance that communications and PR awards very thoroughly look at the outcomes and the results of communication campaigns. And PR without results is like throwing your money out the window.

7. HYPER-tailored information: Years ago, when companies started with direct mailings and addressing people personally, they had quite some success. So did hotels with personalization for their guests (name cards on bed, greeting message on the TV screen, connection to own calendar through computer screen in the room etc.); and so did airlines with personalized services for their first and business class. They had discovered a great way of approaching two important things inside of every individual: their ego (just think of how popular the selfie is) and their emotions.

There are many known examples of this individualising technique, such as Coke’s personalized bottles, Apple’s engravings, and one of the latest and most impactful examples – Google’s Art, Copy & Code project, which creates videos using real-time data. It is up to PR professionals to advise clients on how to use these new approaches to shift from traditional channels to more engaging tactics.

8. Metaphor of a CONNECTED world: Undoubtedly, we live in a connected world. Through technology and the internet, we are always connected to each other, irrespective of the geographies or time zones we live in. But what does this mean for us and our clients? It emphasizes the importance of having one face and telling one story through different channels; it underlines the importance of staying alert in case of a crisis, as news can swap over countries and continents very quickly; and it highlights that we need to give up full control of our brands’ story if we want to be successful.

9. Thought LEADERSHIP drives brands: A company can only be as good as its leader and its company or brand strategy – a direct link we see very often when looking at companies listed on the stock exchange. After major announcements or after an interview with the CEO, their stocks either sink or jump prominently. It is similar with brands, which need to tell their stories in an engaging way and communicate with their audiences directly, while motivating them to become brand ambassadors and share the story. .

10. SMART Data: We have all been talking about big data, which can consist of numbers, emails, videos, statistics etc. Although it is a fact that some of us joined PR because we’re bad at math, we need to cope with this changing demand and learn how to interpret different loads of data. Turning big data into smart data is the trick, as it shows us what can be done with this information and how we can turn it into insights. And this can help us when working with media and other target groups, who love analytics, statistics, infographs and similar data showing correlations and hard facts. 

11. EMERGING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PR PROFESSION: PR as it has traditionally been purveyed will not stand up to any one of these key drivers, let alone all of them simultaneously. Yet at the same time, these drivers offer some fabulous opportunities for the profession. First and foremost, companies will need massive assistance to be able to engage effectively in a world built on dialogue and transparency. Shifting from a default policy of being closed and communicating by press release, to building genuine human interactions and conversations, is far from easy. Guidelines and parameters need to be established and communicated, senior executives need to be coached and technologies need to be implemented. Of all the professions, only PR has the core experience and understanding to be able to do this effectively. Yet practitioners also need to extend their capabilities into new domains such as technology and new media in order to be able to deliver on this.

As the role of perception becomes ever more central, senior executives must pay attention to these issues directly. We are entering a world in which the flow of information and perceptions will drive much of the value creation in a highly networked digital economy. The PR industry should be looking forward to a time of massive prosperity, in which it extends itself to play in entirely new fields of media and communication. Yet many of the existing participants will need to adopt a new stance and actively develop new skills to do this effectively. Those that re-conceive their role and potential impact, could well be masters of the universe

This 11 list captures some of the main tendencies of the changes that are and will be blowing through the comms industry of today and tomorrow – on both regional and global level. However, given the pace of new developments, PR professionals need to watch closely and analyze the shift, to be able to stay on top of the game and catch the new winds in their sails. In conclusion, everyone is now a media creator and the PR Professional needs to understand this shift.

Your comments will be most appreciated to further deepen the study on Digital PR and how it affects the traditional PR/

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