Why PR Needs to Wake-Up

4 03 2010

The bulk of the PR profession needs a wake up call and fast.   We have seen what is happening to print media at a regional level in the UK and US and the UK national newspaper heartland will be the next sector to feel the squeeze.  Never mind the quality of the Sunday papers, feel the width.  Not as bulky as they used to be are they?

Broadcast media is changing too, with event TV dominating schedules and more traditional content being driven by on-demand services.  The cosy relationships where PR people sit between journalists and clients trafficking ‘news’ just isn’t enough any more.

So here are five things every PR person should be thinking about.

1. Earned Media 

Media coverage achieved for clients in the digital world falls into three categories; bought, earned and owned.  ‘Bought media’ was always and is still the province of the advertising business.  ‘Earned media’ is the heartland of PR.  At one level this is just the online version of editorial but it is richer and deeper than that.  We should be collaborating to create content that will earn coverage.  Audio interviews, creative videos posted on YouTube and disseminated across the web as well as words and pictures are the collateral we must use.

 2. Owned Media 

We can create our own spaces on-line that have the capacity to become channels in their own right.  I firmly believe that PR people should blog but the concept of ‘owned media’ can extend much further.  Relevant content brings people to you.  The PR and corporate communications team at ASDA know this.  They have 18 million shoppers, mostly mums and they have used that weight to engage with the major parties during the coming general election and will be using their ‘owned’ channels to host political debate.

3. Reputation Online

“Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system. And that’s one of the most powerful reasons so many CEOs have become more transparent: Online, your rep is quantifiable, findable, and totally unavoidable. In other words, radical transparency is a double-edged sword, but once you know the new rules, you can use it to control your image in ways you never could before.”  These words were written by Clive Thompson in Wired almost three years ago. PR has always been about reputation management  and arguably a key determinant of reputation is the content on page one of a Google Search. Search therefore is very important to PR.

4. PR & SEO 

If you’re not sure what SEO is you may be in the wrong job.  The most important tool that search engine optimisation specialists have at their disposal is now the ‘press release’. They may in many cases be badly written, off message and even inaccurate but the SEO companies are all using them, with embedded links.   This is a serious threat to the PR industry as it stands.  If we don’t educate ourselves about the value of good editorial and link strategies as part of PR, we’ll be left behind.  Whatever you think about the idea of ‘social media releases’ when you send out content to the media you should embed links. 

5. Evaluation     

We’ve always claimed we don’t like rate card equivalent and then used it any way.  Well now is our chance.  So much of what is online can be measured, sorted and analysed and we need to know how to do this.  Every PR person should have a least a working knowledge of web analytics and should be able to manage tools for analysing conversations on-line.

All of these areas are natural extensions of traditional PR but that doesn’t mean we own them.  We need to stake our claim …or others will.



15 responses

4 03 2010
Jonathan Hemus

Great posting – I couldn’t agree more. One of my key areas of specialism is crisis communication and issues management, and the biggest single source of enquiries is from businesses and individuals who are suffering from a poor reputation on P1 of a Google search. In many cases this has a major impact on their business and is therefore a top priority to resolve. This was simply not an issue five years ago. Today online reputation management is crucial.

Jonathan Hemus

4 03 2010
Chris Norton

Great post Rob, I think you have made some really interesting points here. I particularly like the line: “Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system.” You are absolutely right with that and that is why PR professionals with digital experience are vital to the growth of our sector.

I acknowledge that SEO agencies are a threat to the PR industry but at the moment many lack the skills to deliver anything further than wired news releases. However, if they up their games and train their employees accordingly we could well see more SEO agencies rebranding into the social media and digital PR arena. This is mainly because they see us as a threat to them too because social media has a huge impact on SEO as you know.

Keep up the good work Rob.

4 03 2010
Michelle Goodall

I can think of a few more essential skills that can probably come under those 5 headers.

Content planning – many PRs are great content creators. To have a successful social media strategy, brands and organizations need to have a content strategy that encompasses planned and reactive content through earned and owned media. PRs need to develop these content creation skills (video, audio, mobile content etc) and to understand that they can have an important role as content curators for clients.

Copywriting – whilst PRs are naturally good writers, it doesn’t always translate to the web. Good copywriting and information legibility, layout and logic are a fundamental element of any owned media strategy.

Analytics – so few PRs really understand the value of a deep knowledge of the various analytics tools that are available to them. To not have an understanding of the role that Google Analytics, Insights and the various analytics tools that sit behind social networks/platforms hinders any attempt to benchmark, develop KPIs and evaluate PR/SEO PR and social media activity.

Web project management – how many PRs can claim to be great web project managers? How many have heard of agile planning in web development? Working effectively with developers and content producers is becoming an increasingly important element of a PR AM and Ads role, yet so few have had any formal training and wonder why their web dev projects go awry.

10 03 2010
Mark Hanson

Really interesting analysis from Michelle, especially as someone that’s gone (I think) from the traditional agency environment to a real hub of best best practice at eCon.

This year will be a fascinating year in the industry. The key is having a staff who are passionate about their craft and understand that PR is ‘public’ relations not press (or press list) relations. They’ve got to keep learning all these new skills that are mentioned here, whilst doing what they’ve always done and having a real deep understanding of the context.

Otherwise we just have a flood of PR people on Twitter without quite knowing why and what for.

4 03 2010
Steve Earl

These points are all absolutely right, as is the contention that PR needs to wake up. I’d go a little further – PR has always been an industry that, generally speaking, has its head wedged too far between its own butt-cheeks. PR needs to mature commercially, quickly. If not, other marketing will eat its lunch. There is no above/below the line any more.

This point is specifically made with larger PR agencies whose management teams that turn a blind eye to digital media in mind. They may have a few ghetto children with social media skills in a separate team, but it’s experimental and they don’t really understand the changes going on in media, or want to understand them.

But it’s also an important point for any purely digital agencies feasting on their own jizz. Media is changing – it is not just that conventional media will die and social media will take over. Conventional media too must evolve, and it will. Digital heads must learn the power of paper and the papers. Over the next few years we will see a new media ‘landscape’ (if you’ll pardon my jizz) evolve that blends the most potent and engaging forms of conventional and social media.

Content may be king, but the readership is the huge base of loyal subjects. And if media indicators are true, they’re hungrier for content than ever.

The media has to work out how to monetise content delivery in the wake of technological advances, and PR at large has to pull its head out of its arse so that it can develop a more astute and valuable role as the editorial intermediary of the future.

4 03 2010
Lucy Freeborn

As a comms professional with 14 years traditional PR and marketing experience, I love seeing posts like this! The more we can challenge, push and educate old skool PRs to embrace a bit of SEO understanding to make their campaigns more of a vital part of the marketing mix, the better.

I would agree with Chris that many SEO agencies see SEO PR as “distributing on newswires” which often makes me jump up and down in frustration – real SEO PR is so much more than that! Propellernet has developed a dedicated team of SEO PR’s (many with years of traditional experience) and marrying the trad PR relationship building, content creation and media negotiation skills with SEO understanding, we’re delivering great results for clients – but we still face an uphill battle when meeting clients for the first time about their perception of what creative link development / SEO PR actually is. Another key skill for us, therefore, has to be education. We have to take clients who don’t live and breathe it as we do, with us on our journey.

Another wake up call for us must also be REMEMBER OUR CUSTOMER! Who are we targeting? why are we targeting? what do they care about? So many of our industry bash out social media or PPC campaigns without really thinking about who they are targeting and why. Understanding our clients customer and developing real insight into their media consumption is key, which is something we build into all of our strategic planning phases. Trad marketing agencies have this as a part of their planning DNA, why does our industry not? I know readers of this blog will be bored of seeing yet another facebook fan site set up by an enthusiastic intern and abandoned by a busy manager within a week.

I would also like to see us starting to think away in terms of broadcast / vs / online / vs / print. We are creative strategic people – once we know our target audience, we need to be channel neutral. Develop great content, make it meaningful and when you know where your target audience hang out – go and engage with them.

4 03 2010

An interesting read. On the threat to PRs from the SEO agencies. I guess it comes down to a race between PRs and SEOs on who can adopt the others’ skills faster. I certainly see a sense of urgency among PRs who feel threatened by the other side and want to hang on to their clients. But do SEOs have that same sense of urgency to take on PR skills. I’m not sure, but I’m interested in hearing what others think.

4 03 2010
Lara Walsh

Working as an SEO in a PR company, I totally agree with point made about SEO and PR. Apart from the ‘technical’ bits, SEO is essentially PR in an online realm. Really effective SEO is all about who you know and how well you know the industry. And that’s what really effective PR is in the ‘real’ world…at least as far as I can gather. Glad to see I’m not alone in this thinking!

4 03 2010

I couldn’t agree with you more about google not being just a search engine but a ranking tool. If you are top in google people give a reputation value to your business.

Freelance Php Programmer

18 03 2010
Agency training « Another flamin’ blog

[…] So that’s all the stuff that has been around for a while and would benefit from some updating. In terms of brand new stuff, well I reckon as the basis I’ll nick Rob Brown’s recent blog post on the five things every PR person needs to think about… […]

4 11 2010
Lisa Devaney

What I’m interested in is if anyone in PR has seen a trend toward clients dumping social media in the laps of communication professionals. I hear from colleagues more and more that they’ve been overwhelmed with jobs where they are expected to run traditional media campaigns, as well as all the social media and SEO effort. Given little staff and resources to do so, the results are patchy and rarely thought out or executed to success. I’m mulling a blog post about this situation for BrandRepublic.com, so would be interested to know if anyone has noticed this challenge in the industry.

25 02 2011
Das PR – Geschäft verändert sich « brandengineeringsolutions

[…] wie sich Corporate PR zu verhalten hat. Eine kleine, griffige Executive Summary darüber erklärt wie…WHY PR NEEDS TO WAKE UP! Kategorien:Uncategorized LikeSei der Erste, dem dieser post gefällt. Kommentare (0) […]

26 12 2011
Tech PR

I would agree that there are many badly written press release that are created purely for the purposes of SEO. Press release distribution websites are a great way of building links as they distribute across many sites. However, most of the releases are badly written and can tarnish the PR industry and good editorial writing.

1 01 2012
Astrology Gurl

But if we start embedding links in press releases too its just adding to the crapfest!

2 01 2012

Surely that depends on the links

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