The term ‘traditional PR’ should be scrapped from the industry’s language. If you’re a PR professional saying you are doing anything ‘traditional’ at this moment in time, you’re simply signalling you’re on the path to becoming obsolete.
Digital communication channels, app technologies, AI platforms, and social media algorithms have effectively colonised and transformed the public relations space, and there’s no longer any rhyme or reason for a traditional approach in a communications strategy.
As consumers, we each have a plethora of options to choose from to consume media and information – how much, how little, time of day, digital or physical, across multiple platforms – it’s is all in our hands, anytime, anywhere. The days of tuning into our favourite SABC radio station on our commute home or settling down to the 20h00 SABC News to hear the daily news round-up, are long gone.
Today, we reach for our phones at 05h30, and by 06h00 we have checked in on local and international breaking news on our preferred News app, Twitter or Flipboard. All day, we curate our apps and household digital devices to follow news, people and entertainment based on our likes, personal need-state, lifestyle preferences and the professional industry we’re involved in.
In short, audiences are fragmented across diverse, multiple channels, all of their personal choosing. The big question is how do you connect with your brand’s target audience in the channels where they like to engage? Multiple channels coupled with changing demographics and the modern need-states of consumers, mean that PR professionals need to be adept at quickly identifying real-time trends and adapting to the changing dynamics of the industry to meet the demands of clients and their consumer audience.
Here are three PR trends that can be incorporated into campaigns in the current landscape:
Research that unlocks audience insights
Communication strategy should always begin with research. Now more than ever we need to understand not only our client’s industry, but more importantly the mindset and changing behavior of our client’s audience.
Core to any purposeful campaign is establishing an insight that will resonate authentically with an audience, and then build a ‘big idea’ communication strategy around it that can be carried by multiple communication PR tactics such as: video, podcasts, artist performances, live event activations, ambassadors, influencers – the options are endless.
Data in the PR landscape
Data plays an integral role in understanding audiences to better evaluate the impact of our PR strategies. Through the inclusion of data analytics in campaigns, PR professionals have fantastic tools to understand the psychographic and behavioral characteristics, needs and demands of audiences, especially with the shifting demographics of the consumer.
Additionally, with the insights from real-time data and accompanying technology platforms, PR professionals are able to justify the results of PR campaigns with their ability to track views, engagement, clicks, hyperlinks, downloads, and measure the value of their qualitative and quantitative results according to these metrics. (And yes, AVEs [Advertising Value Equivalent] should also be considered obsolete as a PR campaign metric.)
The necessity of niche media
If audiences are digitally fragmented it goes without saying the approach also needs to be niched. While digital has expanded, it’s also crowded. Add to this, ever-changing algorithms, programmatic and sponsored content, and it’s more difficult than ever to achieve earned content and organic reach. Rather than relying on media channels to publish third party endorsed content to audiences, PR professionals can now turn to niche media outlets to enable brands to communicate their brand messaging directly to audiences.
This has seen influencer marketing move from being a fad to a mainstream communication trend that PR professionals and brands are embracing. However, instead of targeting celebrity influencers with huge followings, the key is to engage with those that consistently engage authentically with their smaller audiences, that resonate with the campaign’s strategic insight and complement the brand’s values.
With these key ingredients they can assist in curating credible content such as videos, images, vox pop interviews that tell the brand’s story in ways that are authentic and valuable to the influencer’s community.
It’s an incredibly exciting time of growth and development for PR professionals. We’re being asked for, and strategically relied upon, to deliver so much more than the proverbial press release. There is now a myriad of new ways for us to unleash our excellence on behalf of our clients.
We need to embrace the change, fasten our seatbelts, learn and lean into the new forces shaping the continuously transforming media and communications landscape.
As a Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said: “The only constant in life is change.”
Tracy Jones is the founder and MD of Positive Dialogue, the full-service public relations and influencer marketing agency in the DUKE Group of companies. Jones is a board member of the Entrepreneurs Organisation and a member of the Businesswoman Association of South Africa. A problem-solver at heart and a creative strategist by nature, she has worked on numerous local and international blue-chip brands.
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