As communication technology becomes more sophisticated and ubiquitous, public relations practitioners who are sold to the conventions of the profession tend to nurture a concern, some sort of fear. The fear of being displaced and made irrelevant by an evolving digital technology. One can understand the basis for such concern, especially with the increased adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
But on the flip-side, technology is actually redefining the art of reputation management. It is setting new standards and creating new paradigms in the profession, and so, the professionally lack-lustre PR practitioner begins to play catch-up if he does not swim with the tide of technological novelties.
The modern public relations practitioner has a handful of skills to master. He needs to upskill! The era of only drafting and syndicating press releases for positive mentions and favourable coverage has been overtaken by technology. But this does not erase the place of press releases in PR. The practitioner has to acquire the skill of Online Reputation Management (ORM). This entails a lot. Managing corporate reputation today is largely done in the digital space. The reason is not far-flung- an organisation’s stakeholders belong in online communities where they have conversations and share experiences about brands. These ‘brand narratives’ go viral in just a trice. If it’s positive, then it’s good publicity for the brand. But if negative, then the reputation of the organization is on the line. The public relations of today is chiefly prosecuted with digital tools. Digital public relations is the new public relations.
Times are changing. Organisations are becoming more critical of their public relations officers. In fact, some CEOs dismiss PR as a management function, with the belief that PR does not tangibly add to their bottom-line. They are no longer influenced by expressions like ‘our effort (PR) is helping to favourably shape the image of the organisation’, ‘our PR campaign will build lines of understanding between the organisation and its audiences’, ‘we will employ strategic PR in raising the profile of the organisation’, etc.
These are all noble statements, but the CEO is interested in how your communication campaign will increase sales. There has to be a tie-in. The modern PR practitioner has to start tilting towards a different model, which I call ‘the public relations that sells. Your PR must sell. For that to happen, you must shift from the regular kind of PR and embrace some of the tools deployed in 21st century marketing. Do not misconstrue my argument. Public relations clearly differs from marketing. But the truth is that, digital technology seems to be blurring the lines. Both fields are becoming more aligned now than they were a decade ago.
In today’s PR practice, emphasis is on story-telling, social media, influencer marketing, blog leveraging, search engine optimisation, interpreting analytics, Big Data, content performance, Artificial Intelligence, etc. As a result, the modern PR practitioner, to be effective, must adopt a strategic multi-channel approach. Communicating with your stakeholders should go beyond the standard print and electronic placements to incorporate an array of digital platforms. The strides in media technology have made it imperative for the practitioner to broaden into multiple channels, a practice that expands the reach of the message and even its impact. There is a correlation between channel multiplicity and message effect. When you disseminate your message via only one medium, the message will ‘get lost’ and swallowed up by other messages that are multi-channeled. It’s that simple. The media space is saturated, with so many brands pushing out information to the same audience you are trying to reach.
Also, tracking the success of campaigns has become easier. Historically, public relations practitioners have been finding it hard to measure their return on investment and prove the value of PR. They would normally rely on press clippings and off-air dubs. However, with the advancements in digital technology, we now have tools for measuring the impact of PR campaigns. For instance, digital platforms are embedded with a metrics feature which provides insight on audience engagement with message, share of voice among competitors, sentiment ratio, level of impression, message reach, and other data which can help you draw conclusions on the impact of the campaign.
Public relations practitioners should not have hassles demonstrating their value in organisations. Modern PR is one that sells, and has adapted with the times, staying relevant by picking the best from the old and aptly combining it with the best of the new. Organisations need a PR that sells, not a PR that gulps funds but struggles to show value.
Stanley Olisa is a Media and Communications Strategist at Caritas Communications Limited, Lagos. Reach him via Olisastanley513@gmail.com