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PR has a big role in joined up marketing, but can it step up?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 4th October 2011

Joined up marketing should be a reality for every type of business these days. And as more companies realise the benefits a joined up approach will bring, PR should be perfectly positioned to play a key part. But this will only happen if the industry takes steps to revolutionise itself and portray its changing position and capability to the wider marketing industry.

As traditional media continues to shrink, many PRs will be concerned about how their roles will shape up in a fragmented media world. The truth is that earned and owned media is the future. It’s where consumers place their trust and it has the potential to drive, rather than be driven, by paid media channels. This is where PRs excel, so their position should be strengthened.

PR – in its broadest sense – can be the glue that holds the whole gamut of marketing strategy together. From messaging and planning through to channel selection and creative, PRs understand – perhaps more than any marketing professional – the fundamentals of any modern marketing campaign: how to create and communicate a story for a business that will help it realise its objectives by reaching and influencing its target audience.

This is what should be at the heart of any joined up marketing strategy: the ability to identify a business objective, a target audience and then communicate a compelling message that links the two. The channels and tactics might change, but the strategy won’t.

Strategy versus tactics

But, in many ways, it isn’t the strategic elements where the PR industry needs the most help. If there is one criticism that can be made about the industry time and time again it is the inability to be able to change at a tactical level. This makes it harder for PRs to take a strategic position. It is very difficult to advise on channel selection when there isn’t enough knowledge – at all levels – about the different channels out there and how they can work together to reach overall objectives.

So here are the key steps the PR industry – and PRs themselves – need to take to play a more fundamental role in joined up marketing campaigns:

1. Admit you have a problem

I sense a two tier divide opening up in the industry at the moment, where on the one side you have forward looking agencies and in-house PRs that see obvious potential for the future of PR. And on the other hand, those that seem desperate to cling to ‘how things have always been’. Waking up and seeing that the world is changing (and has changed in many ways) is the first, crucial step.

2. Challenge and change perceptions

The PR industry is still viewed with a media relations mindset. But the potential is now much greater and, for PRs to continue to enjoy a strategic place at the highest level of business, practitioners will need to broaden their skillset. Crucially, they’ll also need to change the perception – from outside and from within.

3. Get senior buy-in

For agencies, it is important to get senior buy-in internally and externally. If agency heads seem to be oblivious to the changes that have been coming for quite some time now, then it will be very difficult for anyone in the company to make big changes and input the investment they require. But client-side too, I still see a lack of knowledge when it comes to the way the role of PR is changing. It is up to us in the industry to begin to educate about this change.

4. Invest in training

And one of the key ways industry heads can show they are listening is to invest in training so that their employees can go out and sell this stuff to help begin to change perceptions, as mentioned above. Still, at industry events on social media, I see junior PRs asking pretty basic questions and getting fairly standard advice. I expect knowledge of less obvious, but equally important, tactics like SEO is even lower. This suggests that internal training too isn’t what it should be. In this online world we can no longer operate in such distinct silos if we are to continue to get the best results for our clients and the businesses we work for.

5. Have the confidence to take the lead

Once the training is in place, it is then all about having the confidence to actually get out there and start implementing this stuff. There are many people in the industry that are talking the talk (and much more than aren’t even doing this), but how many simply fall back to the old methods when it comes to actual campaign delivery? It’s time to take the bull by the horns.

There are some very talented people out there in the tech PR industry and there are some very talented people (and tech PR agencies) that are already taking the steps above and benefiting as a result. But they are still the minority. Until this changes, it will be very tough for the industry to realise the great potential that exists for us all in a truly joined up marketing world.

picture credit

Danny Whatmough