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PR Director of the Future: PR needs to be seen as an integral part of the business

Posted by Andrew Hill on 21st June 2016

David Harold, VP of Marketing Communications for Imagination Technologies has been at the forefront of PR and broader marketing communications for 25 years. In this interview, he tells us how the challenge is evolving and in a UK based organisation with a global market, what this means to global communications campaigns.

“When I started in PR, and it was all about media relations, being ‘mediated’ was its own benefit: you wanted your message to be repeated and amplified. Over 25yrs, I’ve realised that reputation is overridingly important however it’s constructed. Now, if you can go direct to the public, then I say don’t worry as much about the media. It’s a change that’s driven by technology: the way that people now expect to interact directly in social media has an impact on the way they understand the messages that come to them.

In the 1990s I worked with BT Global who had a small number of high value customers. Their PR was very direct to aid understanding and to build a close relationship with those few people. Technology has since made it possible to apply the same approach to target a larger number of customers and that appealed to me immediately. If I can use CRM or email marketing to talk directly to the customer, why wouldn’t I use that? I know if they don’t want to hear from me, they’ll unsubscribe – so it needs to be something they want to hear. It’s still PR as far as I’m concerned.

On PESO and stripping the content corpse

Owned content is key for us…it’s so measurable. How many read it, did they read it all, did they interact, where did they come from, did they end up in our sales pipeline. You can now prove how much value a PR campaign to launch a particular technology has added to the sales pipeline.

Paid promotion works well because we have full transparency – we use all paid channels. We are keen to target people ‘where they live’.

In terms of the content, we work with people who already have a high degree of credibility to generate quality independent content that goes through their channels as well as ours. For example, we pay journalists to feed our Chinese channels and to generate a regular stream of local content.

To make full use of the content, I encourage my team to ‘strip the corpse’ and work out how can we take a piece of content that we’ve created and put it on other channels and use it globally. I can translate it into six different languages and it’s like it’s six different things. The process of translation and localisation often transforms the content into something different as well.

Facebook and Google are both incredibly valuable in terms of the level of information they hold, and therefore the accuracy of their targeting and tailoring. We treat each market independently when planning campaigns. In China, WeChat can’t be ignored and is easy to do, because the technology is so basic – it’s very accessible. We’ll create our own apps for WeChat and it’s as easy as making a microsite. Then we’ll pay for the promotion on WeChat. In Japan social channels are not as easy to exploit in our industry – it’s just not advanced and accessible in the same way it is in China.

On the muddying of the waters between Marketing and PR

Traditional PR agencies can’t exist today. Without an element of integrated marketing as part of their offering, they’re not really in ‘PR’ today. And PR agencies have definitely added new skill sets. It’s the perfect fit – the person doing the PR needs to be able to tell the story…and all of the other things need to support that story. It makes perfect sense to me, for PR to be at the heart of all these new angles given what PR and marketing have become today.

Has PR become better at justifying its existence?

Through some channels, yes. We talk a good game. And we can sit down as PR professionals and talk about the Barcelona principles, but if you actually have to prove to the board what is happening…you have to have some measurement of sentiment, how that changes, and you have to be able to show how you’re having an effect on the business. Can you show there’s any difference on the bottom line for the business because you exist? That’s what we need to tackle. Some of that is getting easier due to certain channels returning more data – and some of it is as hard as it ever was. We have to try to be rigorous and give the best data we can.  I think you can show the impact – if you’re campaign focused, you know if you’ve just done a campaign on a particular technology or product and the pipeline is now twice what it was…you’ve had a significant contribution to that.

PR and positive perception

We’ve got enormous problems in PR. But our ambition, and our willingness to do things outside that core traditional PR definition, isn’t one of the problems. To build a strong, positive perception of PR in the business, we have to think about the organisation we represent, how we represent it, how we use PR to make people interested in what we say and what the desired impact of the PR is across all departments. It is happening – there is a lot more interaction between comms and other parts of the business. We need to demonstrate the value of PR so that all of our colleagues can see and experience the impact…we can’t exist in isolation, telling some story about the business that doesn’t fit with or affect anything else. We have to think about what it does for sales enablement. PR needs to be seen as an integral part of the business.

Andrew Hill

Originally joining Wildfire as a graduate, fresh from the University of Sheffield, Andy quickly gained a PRCA qualification and built a practical knowledge of PR, working across a broad range of clients.