Public relations needs to deliver measurable and trackable business results today. Lead generation and conversion is now the measurable impact of public relations, not column centimetres – and return on investment in any campaign and service is essential.
The fact remains that the ‘practice’ of PR has changed at a fundamental level. PR Newswire VP, Sarah Skerik writes that traditionally, PR outcomes were campaign based and measured in terms of media pick up and AVEs, not the business bottomline. Now public relations is expected to contribute to the bottom line and generate business leads as well as develop reputation and generate “lasting mindshare”.
Reports Skerik: “One of the strongest emerging trends is the requirement for PR to deliver hard, measurable business results, whether that’s measured in an increase in website traffic, or leads generated. Delivering results that hit the top line, while formerly the domain of marketing, is increasingly expected of PR departments, and to PR’s benefit (in my mind, at least). Information drives many purchasing decisions today, and it’s only natural that the department responsible for conveying much of an organization’s information plays a strong role in influencing customer decisions. However, doing that requires PR to become much attuned to the audiences, and to develop messages within that context.”
It requires that public relations firms evolve beyond the press release, beyond media relations. It requires them to become professional communications businesses, competing head on with the advertising and digital agencies to retain market share.
Global public relations firm FleishmanHillard believes the solution lies in becoming channel agnostic. The firm says it has redefined the boundaries of traditional public relations by evolving into a fully integrated communications company this year, able to solve client business problems by working across paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) media channels.
Said global FleishmanHillard president and CEO, Dave Senay: “Many years ago we recognised the changing communications environment and increasingly heard client demands for integrated solutions. We reimagined and reinvented our business. We invested in non-traditional talent and new capabilities behind four significant growth areas driving our business today: the alignment of brand and reputation; analytics and iNSIGHTS; social enterprise; and strategic integration across paid, earned, shared and owned media channels.”
Five years ago, when a listed company would release their results, all the PR firm was required to do was get the results, make a statement, send a press release to the media.
Now, as FleishmanHillard South Africa MD, Kevin Welman explains, the PR firm has to package that content in six or seven different ways: creating new content for the business press, live stream that content on Summit TV or CNBC Africa, have a more in depth story ready for the weekly or Sunday press, a range of different angles for social media, read-made tweets, and information ready for Facebook or the online community.
Newsrooms have changed and Welman says communicators need to understand the primary audience, the media and the multiple channels now available.
“A tweet from (business editor) Bruce Whitfield about your client is as powerful as a page four story in Business Day. We will prepare our 15 to 20 tweets in advance and then we literally wait for specific journalists to be at their desks and tweeting to tweet at them at that moment and hope they retweet it. You have to understand how to build this audience!”
FleishmanHillard built a separate digital business within the company, integrating it fully into the agency in the last year. “Clients are wanting integrated solutions.”
Welman has no issue with the traditional definition of PR. What agencies need to do is look at the new channels for their information. “You have to understand your client better and your environment better.”
Marcusbrewster chairman, Marcus Brewster, has transformed his company in recent months into a firm that now positions itself as providing ‘managed communications services’. He recognised that the way they had done things for the past 20 years as ‘PR’ would not necessarily make them successful for the next 20 years, despite wanting to rest on their laurels.
“The market will not really be asking for PR in the way we have always understood it, because of the need to integrate too many service providers. Clients are looking for a holistic solution, more services, more specialists. We see our position going forward as a gatekeeper agency for these services and will apply our 360 understanding of all the touchpoints and bring in the experts as needed.”
Obviously, they would still drive things from a PR below the line point of view, Brewster said. “Our DNA is PR.”
Brewster recognised that traditional agencies were being challenged in their retention of client relationships and that companies are hiring specialised digital marketing solution and service providers to implement social and interactive strategies. He was candid about their limitations and brought in PR doyen Ingrid Lotze to consult to the firm because of her long history in ICT PR, as well as knowledge of the digital realm. Brewster invited her to assist with “rebooting” the agency and steering the change management process that would bring the agency into the digital age.
Lotze explains: “We achieved this within six short months. Taking a legacy agency like marcusbrewster and rebooting the agency was both surprising and fraught with challenges as the shift to digital and social channels significantly impacts on agency internal operations, internal meetings, idea generation needs to be expanded, staff competence needs to be broadened to allow for this expansion, reporting structures need to change, compensation models, and use of marketing technology, as well as measurement systems all need to be reviewed…
“Marketing expenditures are under incredible pressure in today’s business environment. Objective, quantifiable measurement of communications effectiveness is a requirement – and the days of giving AVE ROI are over. It is critical for companies to adopt measurement tools and technologies that are far broader in its organisational scope than at any time in the past,” Lotze went on to say.
Greater Than MD, Galia Kerbel believes that the PR agency of the future has already embraced digital in all their communications, for themselves and their clients.
“The opportunity for PR firms to go directly to their stakeholders and engage with them (without going through the media) has always been a tactic within the PR service offering. You see this through experiential activities – such as promotions, launches, events, sponsorships and so on. You also see this with stakeholder engagement tactics.’
“Now Public relations firms have another way to engage with their stakeholders (some of whom are readily using social media and some who are not) through digital platforms.”
South by South West (SXSW) is probably by now the most famous technology and media culture conference in the world, held every year in Austin, Texas, and featuring trends in the latest in digital innovation (Foursquare launched there in 2009 and this year the 3D printer was demonstrated), to film, music and media.
Hunter PR vice president, Melissa Todisco, told PR News after SXSW this year that she had an epiphany about evolving media relations in this new digital era: “I think my biggest lesson learned was that the media don’t necessarily need to be pitched about your news, but rather they prefer to discover it themselves through mentions in sessions and social-media buzz. PR professionals typically go through the media to reach their target audience, yet at SXSW, appealing to conference attendees and influencers helps to reach the media and generate even more buzz.”
Her prediction of the next digital communications trend was the emergence of data measurement companies offering tools to help analyse data to generate consumer iNSIGHTS, as well as track social media conversations in new ways. “These kinds of solutions will be very beneficial to PR professionals looking for new measurement solutions to justify ROI on PR initiatives,” Todisco says.
And don’t discount social platforms like LinkedIn, which is becoming the social network for business to network across, attract talent and connect directly with business professionals. More and more brands are using it for B2B marketing, according to PR Daily.
PR-Net’s Brian Berkman believes that those with the relationship with the client have the ultimate power as they have access to the purse strings and can help the client decide where the money will be spent. That person could very well be a PR person as earned media, including PR, provides a more cost-effective return on investment.
Lange 360 MD, Ruth Golembo says the challenge continues to be on how to best improve all touchpoints with the public for a brand or an organisation and how best to channel the messages from strategic communications initiatives.
“We have had to show clients how to extend communications in a 360 degree way to include all the brand’s target audiences – i.e. employees (brand ambassadors), suppliers and government – in order to best pump up the volume and far more positively influence.”
Lotze, who is CEO of her own company, Puruma, says people still need public relations, but the difference now is that there are multi-channel disciplines.
“Our industry as a whole has battled with the change process. They have recognised the need and know they have to upskill and send staff on training, but the struggle is to bring integrated communications into fee structures and the client offering. Clients are looking at integrated communications and saying it’s too expensive… digital should be free… Public relations people are struggling with that process.”
Proof of return on investment (ROI) is also far more difficult when AVE measurements are thrown out the window, Lotze says.
“PR agencies have recognised that they are losing market share to digital agencies and individuals who say they are an online marketing strategist or social media expert, etc., who are all playing in the earned media space.”
And the disruptions only continue, Lotze says, with Facebook changes, new social media launches, mobile developments…
Golembo believes public relations could become the lead agency in integrated communications campaigns which the other disciplines (ATL advertising, digital, events and promotions) all hang off, instead of as an add-on to advertising campaigns.
“The challenge remains to find new ways to blend media and to connect the dots between the various channels, creating inter links between paid and earned media and between, for example, celebrity and media influencers and the target audiences,” she says.
The gulf between education and actual practice is widening due to the incredible speed of developing digital technologies. Education needs to be continuous and the need seems to be greater for those entering the job market and those at the top leading smaller to medium PR companies. The end result is that the industry will get younger and there will be more of a blurring of functions in the entire communications sphere.
Vuma CEO, Janine Hills urges communication strategists to upskill themselves. “Go and experience your client’s business. Go to the factory floor and understand what it takes, understand the business, otherwise you won’t be able to write the best communication strategy around it.”
Of course communicators need to uplift their own understanding and business skills too, she says: “The amount of times I sit in meetings and business people say their PR and marketing people don’t understand the business…”
New skills and fresh approaches are needed within agencies to get the staff excited about new opportunities and growth potential. There should be a co-learning approach, where account directors can learn from interns just as much as the other way around.
Lotze encourages a culture of sharing interesting and educational content so that there is continual learning. Add a brainstorm session to your weekly staff meetings so that new ideas and new skills are on the agenda in top of mind all the time, she encourages.
PR Powerhouse MD, Lebo Madiba, has come to the realisation that it is no longer agency size that matters, but expertise: “The world of communications has changed, more rapidly perhaps than we thought it could. Not only in terms of media platforms, but client budgets and client needs – forcing a change in the type of people that work for PR agencies. The realisation for me has been that it is no longer about size but about expertise – we are serving a new world of media and we are also now serving communities instead of the single consumer or brand.
“The world is churning out all sorts of experts every day, as they discover new areas to explore for the benefit of their clients and to meet consumer needs. So what this has done for PR is that it has created an environment for imaginative engagement for the audiences it serves,” Madiba points out.
Brian Berkman says PR professionals need to know more now than they ever needed to know before, including about advertising, digital, social media, production cycles, social marketing, and so on. They have to understand how the entire marketing communications value chain works, he reiterates.
‘Listening’ is also a large part of the new roles that exist in the industry, Berkman says. “My colleagues and I are spending time watching and listening to what is going on in the social media space and letting the client know the tone of voice that people are adopting at any given moment.”
For the smaller independents, self-learning is the way to upskill, says Chirene Campbell, Owlhurst MD. “We have to be digital gurus ourselves and know when to tweet (and when not to), when to Facebook and when to pick up the phone to journalists/clients and know the advantages of each media platform because that is essentially what they are. We also need to be prepared to pitch stories differently – use Twitter, WhatsApp, BBM, Facebook, etc., according to what the personal preferences of each journalist is,” Campbell says.
To upskill in the digital sphere, it seems as if the PR agencies spend much of their time on courses and as Kerbel points out, it would greatly assist the industry if the pricing of digital courses came down, as she believes it would be more affordable for many smaller consultancies to send even more staff on them.
To the ‘traditional’ PRO still grappling with the wild web world, Retroviral’s Mike Sharman says “dive in”.
“Listen and see what is happening online. Start reading online, set up a Twitter handle, follow the influencers. Build from one step to the next. Read case studies.
“Marketing is about finding the common iNSIGHT into what your target market subscribes to. We tap in to common themes and now it becomes a meme. Agencies have almost forgotten about research: finding what makes consumers tick. People need to research more, read more.”
Sharman’s definition of PR today is: “Remarkable content seeded to the right people with exceptional results. It all comes down to content. The foundation of communication now is a strong narrative.”
Lion’s Wing MD, Greg Forbes says with the evolution of PR to meet the demands of the digital world, wider new skills sets are definitely needed, including business consulting knowledge, creative, digital skills, writing talent, research, content management, and so on.
The evolution of PR
So do we need a new definition of PR?
The consensus seems to be no, but a better understanding of the value of the public relations industry needs to be fostered among all stakeholders, from clients to media. Public relations has evolved to become part of broader communication strategy in this new wired, ever connected world.
The past decade has been one of significant echange for the PR industry, says Golembo.
“PR agencies have definitely had to reengineer themselves to meet clients’ communications needs. They have had to retool and reinvigorate their services to answer to the need for the always-on, real-time torrents of information which the interconnected world we live in has brought about.
“PR practitioners need to see themselves today as strategic, proactive information disseminators and, depending on the kinds of clients they work for, they need to include all kinds of new ways, including online advocacy campaigns (in which customers become the channel). They also need to listen to the conversations others are having about their products and brands (i.e. find better ways to mine social chatter for business intelligence). PR practitioners today need to create compelling multimedia (think edutainment) messages to drive executive thought leadership and find effective ways to manage through-the-line corporate presences and digital communities,” says Golembo.
Berkman also points out that given that the media landscape has changed radically, 50% of the reporters invited to events now will be bloggers and online media with followings that he wants to engage with for his clients.
Kerbel is emphatic that PR is and always will be about creating meaningful relationships with all a company’s stakeholders through various communication tactics, with the aim of achieving key business and reputational objectives.
“At the heart of this is achieving earned exposure for newsworthy content. PR is exactly the same as what it used to be.”
The industry doesn’t need a new definition, Kerbel says, but it does need to recognise that there are now different tools and channels to work through to take the client’s messaging to their audiences.
The industry also needs to grapple with perception around what is PR and what is not; and continue to educate clients on the value of public relations and gain their understanding of the tools/channels and why what they recommend will work and why certain channels won’t work.
“In the social media world it is key for us as an industry to position the value of these channels where they are most appropriate – not suggest a one size fits all approach.
“We need to drive the client’s perception of online channels and platforms and continue to educate them on the opportunities. From an agency perspective there is a huge opportunity to offer beautiful content driven campaigns to provide the publishing industry with content which is often sorely lacking due to declining budgets and resources. This content is not only through the written word but also pictorial, video or audio,” says Kerbel.
Golembo sums up that the essence of good communications (PR) is still about distilling the appropriate message, amplifying it to the right receiver at the right time and using the right channel. The channel is very important.
“Just because social media has greater reach and is more cost effective, doesn’t necessarily make it the right channel for all PR related communications. Generally the most effective is a blend of mediums and activities to best get credible corporate and brand messages to all the stakeholders.”
The PR agency of the future needs to reclaim the “realm of strategic communications”, Golembo says, or else they will be swallowed by the new age advertising agencies of the future.
“Given the move by ad agencies to evolve into communications agencies themselves (by adding digital, experiential and content driven advertising) in a move to grab attention in the wake of changing media consumption habits, PR needs to differentiate itself by being the driver of trust in brands,” Golembo concludes.
Kerbel believes there is a misperception of the true value of the public relations professional: “For example some clients still believe that PR is event management. That is not PR and will never be, so the challenge still exists to continue challenging those perceptions and educating the market about PR.”
Public relations opportunities now lie in reputation management, together with research and together with a more integrated approach to marketing communication, such as public affairs, media relations, corporate communication, CRM – every touch point of every single stakeholder, reiterates Forbes.
“That is where the PR industry will move towards,” he adds.
What is still on the table – even more so with digital now added to the communication mix and the continuing conversation on how to track influence – is measurement.
AVEs are a small component of PR measurement now. “Our international clients want to know how we are on strategy, positive engagement, how we are engaging, are we getting adoption/talkability, reach of message. We haven’t dismissed AVEs, but it is one small component,” explains Forbes.
Forbes says it is clear that the media monitoring companies don’t know how to measure influence and while many PR companies, particularly internationally, have tossed AVEs out the door and adopted various international protocols, the fact is that many remain unsure as to how to measure the social conversation and bill clients for it, or even justify their efforts.
Independent digital analytics agencies like Brandseye have also stepped into the fray to hear what the industry needs in terms of measurement online, recently hosting workshops to consult with the industry in this regard.
Watch this space…!
SA PUBLIC RELATIONS INDUSTRY IN NEED OF A FULL REVIEW TO ELIMINATE THE CURRENT LACK OF BASIC STANDARDS
Thought leadership provided by report sponsor Lion’s Wing Brand Communications
By Greg Forbes, managing director, Lion’s Wing Brand Communications
The South African public relations industry is riddled with inconsistencies and a serious lack of basic standards and practices. Coupled with this the ever increasing number of public relations companies, what South Africa can soon expect to see is an industry in total chaos.
The problems lie across the board and, in one way or another, influences every facet of the PR industry. Simply put, the South African PR industry is in desperate need of a regulatory body that will oversee the standards and practices to ensure that all agencies live up to the highest standards.
This is incredibly important in today’s society, where the reputation of a business can be destroyed in a matter of seconds, due in large part to the ever increasing demand for transparency as well as the use of electronic communication, dominated by social networking sites that disseminate news faster than ever before.
We see that the following areas must be addressed, so that the SA PR industry can develop further, and remain relevant in the converging communications phenomenon.
Legislation and Governance
While many PR companies and individual practitioners recognise that there are significant inconsistencies, many will agree that it is impossible for the industry to voluntarily agree on a path forward. In order to expediate the process and ensure common compliance, it is necessary for legislation to be introduced that will:
a) Seek all PR company’s to register with an industry body, without which businesses will not be able to operate.
b) Adopt the international best practices recommended by the governing body, and ensure compliance through regular audits.
Industry Body Representation
Similarly, this governing body will represent the PR industry’s national and global representation. This is not a new approach, as various nations have adopted the need for a self-regulating industry body that oversees the implementation of services.
Processes for Self-Governance
The South African advertising industry has, to a degree, successfully implemented self-regulating organisations that oversee such matters as pitch processes, conflicts, and advertising standards. Similarly, it is important that the PR industry follows this example and, in the absence of legislation, develop a self-governing and self-regulating processes to ensure best practice.
Mandatory Accreditation: Barrier to Entry for practitioners and consultancies
The issue of mandatory accreditation for both consultancies and practitioners is one that will, most probably, receive the highest number of complaints. Undoubtedly, such a measure will eliminate a number of consultancies, however when one weighs the need for adherence to basic standards, it becomes evident that it is necessary.
Take, for example, investor and media relations for listed businesses. More than any other business, listed companies require extremely strict control over the implementation of a communications plan. Its not a nice to have, but a must have. A slip-up on the part of a PR agency or practitioner that does not fully understand ‘closed periods’ or regulation relating to ‘insider trading’ and ‘confidentiality’, will not only impact on the reputation of the business, but further impact on the share price, not to mention subjecting the client to the wrath of the relevant stock exchange. And, even further, if the listed company’s shares are held by investment houses representing pension funds, the ignorance of the PR agency has a direct and measurable negative impact on ordinary people.
In light of this, is it not a better idea to ensure that there are mandatory requirements for such reputation management businesses, to ensure that they know and understand the impact their services will have, and perhaps are held accountable when such negligent instances happen?
Training and Education
This brings us back to a review of what is being taught to the future practitioners. The problem is that students studying communications and tertiary institutions are, (a) not being taught a consistency syllabus based on industry or international best practices; and (b) are not being properly prepared for entry into the PR industry. What this means is that students who seek internships within PR agencies are faced with a complete re-education of the PR industry, and the PR company has to invest more time than it should to train the intern up into a productive resource.
If the PR industry was represented by an industry body, and that the entire PR industry adhered to basic best practice standards, then the governing body could influence what is being taught (with the guidance of PR companies).
Measurement and Reporting
Measurement and reporting of campaigns has, and possibly will always remain a very large and juicy bone of contention. At least, for the most part, all PR practitioners, consultancies and clients agree that measurement and reporting is important and required.
But exactly how should we all be measuring and reporting? Voluntary adherence to specific measurement and reporting will not happen, and yes, rigorous debate should take place, but that requires PR consultancies to get involved.
In the absence of a common view to self-regulate the market, the proposed legislation, mandatory accreditation, process adoption and auditing, as well as changes to the educational syllabus will, in the long term, rectify this.
Perhaps the last issue would be a review of our industry awards. While the advertising industry has an award programme for, what it seems, every possible project, approach and measurement, the South African PR industry has a handful, and yes, while there are various international awards that we can enter, perhaps a review of the current awards programmes may be an opportunity to educate on best practices and start the implementation of standard process and practices. Once again, rigorous debate is necessary, and yes, that will require practitioners and consultancies to participate.
I recognise that these issues need to be discussed far more broadly, and yes, there will be many that will criticise and disagree with me on one, if not all of the points raised. But, if these proposed changes get people talking, gets the debate going, and drives participation, then we are at least moving in the right direction. I will welcome debate, as I am sure PRISA will too.
Attree, Melissa: digital marketer and strategist, Cerebra. (Direct interview)
Braithwaite, Glynnis: managing director, Protactic. (Direct interview)
Boddy, Lucinda: managing director, Livewired PR. ‘Create your own PR plan’. Feb 2013
Boddy, Lucinda: managing director, Livewired PR. ‘Understanding digital PR’. March 2013
Boddy, Lucinda: managing director, Livewired PR. ‘Picture perfect PR’. April 2013
Berkman, Brian: founder, PR-Net. (Direct interview)
Brewster, Marcus: chairman, marcusbrewster. (Direct interview)
Campbell, Chirene: managing director, Owlhurst. (Direct interview)
Case, Pete: CEO, Gloo. ‘The search for a new agency model’. March 2013
Charted Marketers’ Officers (CMO) Council: www.cmocouncil.org
Evert, Karey: managing director, Wired Communications. (Direct interview)
Falkow, Sally: digital PR and social media strategist. Publisher: The Proactive Report, California, USA. (Direct interview)
Forbes, Greg: managing director, Lion’s Wing Brand Communications. (Direct interview)
Golembo, Ruth: managing director, Lange 360. (Direct interview)
Harambolous, Nic: founder, Nic Socks. (Direct interview)
Hills, Janine: CEO, Vuma Reputation Management. (Direct interview)
Kerbel, Galia: managing director, Greater Than. (Direct interview)
Lotze, Ingrid: CEO, Puruma. (Direct interview)
Madiba,Lebo: managing director, PR Powerhouse. (Direct interview)
Maker, Melody: digital strategist, Acceleration Media. ‘Are social media agencies prostituting their brands?’ September 2012
Parker, Susie: founder of Sparker Strategy Group, USA. ‘3 Public Relations TREND.s to Expect in 2013’, January 2013.
PR Newswire: www.prnewswire.com
Public Relations Society of America: http://www.prsa.org
Public Relations Society of South Africa: “ICCO survey sheds light on SA communication industry”. March 2013
Pulizzi, Joe: founder of the Content Marketing Institute, USA. ‘7 strategies for developing compelling content in 2013’. www.contentmarketinginstitute.com
Rocha, Ricardo: creative director, Etiket. ‘This economy has a new face’.
Rodney, Craig: managing director, Cerebra. (Direct interview)
Senay, Dave: president and CEO, FleishmanHillard. ‘FleishmanHillard evolves brand identity to reflect world’s most fully integrated communications company’. April 2013
Sharman, Mike: owner, Retroviral. (Direct interview)
Silver, Mike: managing director, Stretch Experiential Marketing. (Direct interview)
Skerik, Sarah: vice president of social media, PR Newswire, USA. ‘PR trends for 2013: Outcomes & Tactics’. www.prnewswire.com
Spark, Janice: managing director, Idea Engineers. (Direct interview)
Todisco, Melissa, vice president, Hunter PR, USA: ‘The biggest PR trends from 2013 SXSW’ by Bill Miltenberg, www.prnewsonline.com, March 2013.
TREND.watching.com: ‘Clean slate brands’. April 2013 http://www.trendwatching.com/trends/cleanslatebrands/
Von Holdt, Bridget: CEO, The Glasshouse. (Direct interview)
Welman, Kevin: managing director, FleishmanHillard. (Direct interview)
THIS IS THE FOURTH AND FINAL PART OF OUR TREND.iNSIGHT’SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS’ REPORT. TO READ THE REPORT AS A WHOLE, GO TO TREND.
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