Dear Nigerian PR practitioner, this is my 8th public relations article this year, as I have been publishing a piece every month as my own campaign towards managing the reputation of public relations and forging a discourse around practicing it right, especially in an ever-evolving world driven by tech.

In July, we celebrated the first ever World PR Day. I’m particularly gleeful about this because I looked forward to it- a day set aside to put public relations on the front burner globally, drive a unified agenda for the profession and unmistakably enlighten the world about the true worth of PR, thereby dispelling the myriad of misperceptions which preoccupy many minds.

In the same July, I had the opportunity of speaking to professionals and entrepreneurs of a Rotary Club in Lagos. The topic was ‘Managing Brand Reputation in an Age of Digital Disruption’. The session was an explosive one for my audience and an exposé for me- another session which revealed how incorrectly people think about PR. The misorientations about PR, the wrong expectations from PR practitioners and their perceived value. The lecture further accentuated the need for an extensive PR campaign for PR. You can read my piece on Punch, entitled ‘Why PR in Nigeria Needs PR’.

In this letter to Nigerian PR practitioners, I’m dwelling on 6 practices which define modern public relations, while charging Nigerian PR practitioners to ‘switch things up’ in line with the demands of communication technology and digital cultures of their audiences. If your PR must be contemporary, it should exemplify these elements and pan away from the conventional PR thinking, paradigms and approaches.

Publicity is a Means, Not an End

Publicity should no longer be the endgame. It’s a means, not an end. We’ve gone past the times where your pitch to a client as a PR consultant is merely awareness creation. CEOs already understand the need for visibility. But beyond that, what’s the endgame? Your client is now interested in how your PR campaign will help them strengthen relationships with their key stakeholders and engender supportive behaviour.

Telling your client you’ll get them published in the dailies and on blogs doesn’t really cut it anymore. Selling press release syndication as your only value-add to a prospective client is no longer a sustainable approach. There is a growing need for PR practitioners to embrace the reality that the demands and expectations in the business world are changing, and the business environment is becoming more complex.

These changes are adding new ramifications to the PR profession, as it is coming under intense scrutiny by CEOs, especially as they pose questions which impugn the value of PR practice. PR expert Godfrey Adejumoh, in his article ‘What is the Currency of PR Practitioners?’, captured the role of a modern PR practitioner beyond publicity: “The currency of influence by the PR practitioner is so critical that it plays a major role in aiding the go-to market strategy of the organisation, it inspires the business continuity plan and provides input into the business forecast in the short, medium and long term. These are no doubt key deciding factors for the sustainability of any organisation”.

Thus, to blossom well and show more value as a PR pro, you must look beyond publicity cum media relations and have a broad commercial mindset.

Maximising Digital Assets

Digital has come to stay, and you must be comfortable with digital platforms. Digital PR should be factored when planning your campaigns. The reason is simple: People are spending more time in online communities and having conversations about everything, including your brand.

Therefore, it’s vital to keep tabs on these conversations and determine when to wade in or take advantage of the narratives. This is where Social Monitoring and Listening skills come to play, to manage the sentiment levels of the conversations and inform share-of-voice decisions.

Modern PR takes advantage of online assets and uses them to favourably direct the sentiments of customers’ conversations. Digital disruption has heightened the scrutiny on brands and redefined the crisis cycle. It’s easier for crises to snowball now than it was a decade ago, courtesy of social media prevalence. Thus, Social Monitoring and Listening have to take a front seat as a proactive PR measure.

Leveraging Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is one of the tactics which PR picked from Marketing. If your audiences are predominantly online, then influencer marketing should be a central part of your PR planning. Let’s understand that awareness is no longer defined by the media only. Social media boom has intensified the need for influencers whose social influence on the target audience isn’t in doubt.

In my article ‘How to Optimise Influencer Marketing for PR Wins’ on Vanguard, I wrote: “Influencers are people or entities who have some social influence (persuasion and compliance) or people considered to have authoritative knowledge in their chosen disciplines. An influencer is almost always famed for their affinity for a given field or subject area. Influencer marketing takes the form of product placement and endorsement by the influencer and frequently comes across as testimonial advertising”.

Just as you develop a media relations plan, you should also have an influencer relations plan with clearly articulated objectives. There are key factors to consider when choosing influencers. You may want to read my Vanguard piece.

Thought leadership Should Be a Standard Practice

Today, people trust you and are easily influenced if you’ve consistently published niche content which speaks to issues impacting them.

I defined thought leadership in my article ‘Thought Leadership for Reputation Management’ on Marketing Edge, as “regularly sharing relevant content to provide insight which is helpful to your target audience. It’s the art of building reputation whereby an organisation leverages the expertise of its people to address the questions bogging its target audience”.

Thought leadership can take the form of a webinar series in which a top management executive gives insights on pertinent industry issues; a monthly podcast where a manager shares valuable perspectives on burning issues as they affect their target audience; a weekly newspaper byline publication or blog post shedding light on a given subject matter; or planned speaking engagements for a C-suite executive to showcase knowledge which can solve real issues of the target audience.

Your PR plan should have a thought leadership strategy to reinforce executive presence, drive talkability, project industry expertise and build brand affinity.

Data-driven PR

Public relations starts with research(preliminary) and ends with research(evaluative). This implies that data informs the PR process. Data is everything. It defines the entire campaign. You need data on the stakeholders you’re targeting, for instance- media consumption habits, digital cultures, other defining personality variables, etc.

If you get it wrong in the data stage, your campaign is flawed. That’s why your research must be painstaking.

Writing for Digital is Peculiar

Writing for digital is demanding and peculiar. It’s different from writing for the traditional media. For digital, you must be engaging and concise. The challenge becomes how to express important details in the fewest possible words, sentences and paragraphs. How do you ensure your articles don’t get ignored as a result of their length?

Your writings should be ‘incentivised’- one of the implications of digital media for PR.

Olisa, a Strategic Communications Consultant, wrote from Lagos.