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PR director of the future: Does PR play a strategic role in business?

Posted by Debby Penton on 25th November 2015

In the next in our series of ‘PR director of the future’ blogs, we spoke to Rupert Baines, now CEO of UltraSoC, previously CMO at Real Wireless, VP of Marketing at Picochip and long-time friend of Wildfire’s, to ask for his opinion on this and to discuss how the role of PR directors is evolving.

What do you think about the idea that marketing is eating the PR director’s lunch?

The suggestion makes me grimace…it stems from a parochial definition of PR that no longer applies. The silo into which PR was traditionally placed may have broken down, but when you look at the bigger picture: the skills, the aptitude, and the importance of PR make it more important and far-reaching than it has ever been.

The old PR silo was all about journalist relationships and using them as an indirect channel to reach the end market. To do this required a set of skills and attributes: firstly, knowing who to call, and secondly, being able to explain the story to them in an impactful way to resonate with their audience and what is likely to interest them.

This first attribute has largely faded: The indirect channel of the journalist as a gatekeeper is attenuating. There are hardly any trade journalists left.

But, it’s the direct channel including Twitter, LinkedIn, content marketing, e-blasts – those have become significantly more important.

So with this shift, a PR director’s relevance has expanded across all of marketing. And it’s the ability of an effective PR director to explain why something is important, in the language of the market, in the way the customer understands – in a concise punchy way – which is paramount across all channels. PR is public relations, not press relations. That’s truer now than ever before.

The PR director’s remit has therefore grown massively. As long as they can recognise and adapt to the changes, it’s a great time to be a PR director.

Has marketing’s expectations of PR changed?

It’s the same fundamental skill to achieve the same fundamental objective: putting words together to deliver our message through different channels, or different target audiences. But as in other industries, we’re seeing more aggregation, disintermediation, horizontalisation of activities within marcoms. Content is now everything: whether it’s in the form of press releases, white papers, social media posts. And getting the right message to the right audience is so much more important today than a Rolodex of journalist contacts.

Is PR a strategic contributor to the business?
The CMO is board level and viewed as strategically important and that’s a shift in itself; marketing never used to have board level visibility. Recognition of the importance and the value of a brand changed that thinking.

The paradox of PR is that it is dying in its traditional sense. But PR is a strategic skill and, beyond its traditional silo, is becoming more important than ever.

So if PR is dying in a traditional sense, what is the role and what are the skills required in future?

The role probably won’t be called a PR director; perhaps it will be a comms director or even a content director. The skills required are the same ones the PR director has today though – even if the tactics may have changed. A good PR director matches product messages to an understanding of what the market is interested in hearing and is able to put it across in language they will understand and relate to.

The same shift applies to the agency role: 20 years ago you wanted to know if an agency is best buddies with journalists in your sector. The ability to understand your message was a secondary consideration. That’s flipped: they now want to ensure the agency can define what’s unique, capture why it’s important to the market and communicate that message in a concise and punchy way across multiple channels to reach opinion formers, whoever they are.

To download the PR Director of the Future report click here.

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.