The public relations (PR) industry is often associated with crisis management, “spin,” and fluff media campaigns designed to inject soft stories into the news ecosystem.
But in the business world, PR sits at a more interesting point at the intersection of digital media and marketing. Yet even industry leaders seem to be unsure about what the future of the PR sector looks like: In a recent global Holmes Report survey, only 27 percent of agency leaders believe that the term “public relations” will clearly and adequately describe their work by 2020.
For years, many PR professionals have clamored for a PR-focused return on investment metric—a PROI, so to speak. Today, with spending on PR information and software reaching US$2.9 billion in 2015—a 5.5 percent increase over 2014—the communication industry is on the cusp of a shift in PR’s ability to prove its impact on the bottom line.
Key to that shift is media monitoring and media measurement. With the right tools, media intelligence data can be a high-value tool for business intelligence and long-term decision making. For the PR industry to grow and thrive in the long term, the time has come for tools that maximize “PROI” to help public relations prove its value.
ROI-driven data, in fact, can help counteract the uncertainty and ambiguity that currently exist in the PR sector. Yes, the global PR industry, growing by double digits just two years earlier, slowed to 5 percent growth in 2015. Yet the value of PR has arguably never been more apparent for businesses: PR now generates conversion rates 10 to 50 times those of advertising. Even amid ongoing industry changes, it can be argued that PR in today’s environment is critical to marketing and business success.
Today’s communicators must understand that the DNA of public relations—a.k.a. the “persuasion business”—is active in today’s most important marketing concepts. Though PR’s goals and KPIs remain separate from the marketing department, PR’s values, objectives and principles are of the utmost importance to marketing (and business) success in today’s changing digital landscape.
It takes a great story
Many of today’s business reporters and bloggers are not covering breaking corporate news as it happens—they’re looking for insights and ideas that can help readers and viewers understand events and developments from a broader industry perspective. Businesses, as a result, have an opportunity to do more than “spin” news to the media; they can seize the opportunity to drive the narrative of why their ideas, events, expertise, or approaches to business are important in a bigger-picture way.
With the right PR tactics, companies can expand their brand identities and build reputations as industry thought leaders. And with the right corporate “storylines,” businesses can support their marketing goals more holistically through targeted media coverage that communicates their value propositions and what differentiates them—rather than just their company news and events.
It’s about the audience
In the past, PR was dominated by an “any press is good press” ethos. But as the digital media environment has matured, so has proliferation of media “outlets” in many forms and formats. PR professionals have followed the evolution of “media,” and they understand that in PR, as in marketing, the only audience that matters is yours, and targeted campaigns generate more targeted, higher-value outcomes.
The broader media landscape of content also means more individuals—outside traditional formats or geographic boundaries—are telling the stories that influence a company’s audience. As a result, it is important for PR professionals to use broad, accurate, global contact databases that deliver access to both journalists and social influencers in their target markets. These databases also help PR professionals track and follow up on earned media initiatives to engage both the writers and readers of industry news.
It creates (and requires) trust
Thanks to the continued proliferation of content marketing, the average brand now publishes more than 2,000 pieces of content per year, fostering 75.7 billion interactions with customers. Many of those brands are creating useful, valuable, actionable content for their audiences—and sometimes, the content attracts earned media coverage. On the flip slide, the effectiveness of content marketing alone is declining as the amount of content increases. Today, only 23 percent of consumers trust content from companies whose products they don’t buy.
Into this ever-changing communication landscape, PR creates the media bridge of trust between companies and consumers. Successful PR placements don’t result directly from dollars spent, as with advertising. Instead, PR placements are the result of validating a brand’s news, message, or insights by members of the media. Third-party validation of PR-earned coverage builds trust in the eyes of consumers, thus increasing the value and potential of content marketing campaigns.
It needs to measure and drive outcomes
Broadly, PR has an unprecedented opportunity to offer the C-suite insights into product sales, customer engagement, website traffic, market fit, and much more—but to date, those kinds of metrics have been owned and delivered by the marketing team to prove its value. The PR-focused “persuasion business” can learn a thing or two about data from marketers, and PROI is only the start.