Public relations is a rapidly evolving profession, writes Anthony O’Brien Bedford. It has always been an elusive industry to categorise, to specify exactly what box it falls into. During the pandemic, digital communication was fast-tracked. PR pros had to adjust their approach quickly to maintain value for clients and offer new methods to reach consumers.
Post-pandemic, many of these strategies and tools are now firmly part of the PR toolbox.
However, is PR losing its identity in the world of influencers, paid media and SEO? Where does traditional PR sit in the marketing mix, and does it still add value to clients? In Ireland there is a wide pool from which potential clients can chose – from large agencies which are part of global networks to boutique offerings, mixed media agencies and freelancers.
While there are many options, something clients are asking for more, is a one-stop shop. An agency or professional that can offer everything from buying media ads to traditional editorial, influencer campaigns, social media management and more. It brings to mind the old adage “a jack of all trades is a master of none.”
While it’s important for agencies to diversify, it can be hard to become an expert in a new offering overnight. Many do pull this off, but crucially as PR professionals, we must remember the core of our offering. Brand communications, creating positive sentiment and consumer strategy must remain at the forefront of what PR agencies bring to the table.
A recent article in Forbes on the evolution of PR rightly said that newsrooms are constantly shrinking, and the digital world continues to expand, changing the way the world consumes its media. PR professionals are evolving, forced to think outside the box for fun, creative opportunities to help clients. They must devise new ways of thinking, which is a positive trend.
It drives innovation and raises the bar across the whole industry. Consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to PR messaging, and they can sniff out when something is being sold to them. The Irish consumer is not so easy to subvert, so PR pros must be more creative than ever. Where does PR sit now in the world of consumer engagement and brand identity?
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics. It is the perfect summation of PR as a profession. It is not only traditional media relations, or any one tool. It mutually builds relationships and encourages positive public sentiment.
How we reach this goal is evolving, but this is still the goal.
While developing paid campaigns, PR pros must remember that the messaging, the story is at the forefront. Creating link clicks is a more common ask now, but if there is no human interest then we lose the positive sentiment and end up with just stats. Sentiment is harder to quantify, but so as to create brand loyalty and engaged consumers, sentiment is still the key.
PR pros must continue to be storytellers.
How do PR practitioners as industry professionals evolve to keep up with changing client expectations, to continue adding value above and beyond what we traditionally sell? For many becoming a one stop shop just isn’t feasible, nor should they feel forced to do so. It’s important to know your value and understand the tools you bring to the table.
PR has evolved to encompass many paid media elements, influencer campaigns are the norm and a deeper understanding of SEO and driving online rankings and reputation are important. However, PR pros shouldn’t be expected to become overnight multimedia experts. There is an opportunity for smaller offerings to team up, create collectives that add value by bringing experts from many areas into one place, as opposed to one party trying to do it all.
There is a lot of talent across the Irish marketing, PR, digital and ad industries.
Perhaps the future of PR is diversification, but is our view of this too narrow? Perhaps we should actually focus on cross agency collaboration. Clients can bring together their preferred parties to work cohesively as one unit, with one message delivered via best-in-class tools to their target audiences. This approach allows experts to remain just that, experts.
Specialists of each discipline will gain a deeper understanding of the tools to hand, without being expected to singlehandedly deliver every aspect of the marketing journey. The evolution of PR will continue in the future, but one thing that will remain the same, regardless of the tools implemented, is delivering a brand or organisation’s story with meaning.
Anthony O’Brien Bedford is managing director of Conjure Communications