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Changes in the industry are allowing PR to take centre stage

Posted on Mon 25th Nov, 2019 in: Blogs, Insight, Marketing, Public Relations by Laura Cavanagh

As we enter the final weeks of 2019, it comes to the time where we all reflect on the notable things that have happened in the last 12 months, from favourite campaigns to client wins and award nights out (what we can remember of them anyway!).

Don’t worry, this isn’t another 2020 predictions piece, but there is one thing that has particularly stood out to me which I think is worth highlighting, and that’s how PR is becoming the most prominent and influential strand of the marketing mix.

A lot of us who work in a PR role know of the frustrations that can be felt when the power of PR isn’t fully appreciated. And this notion has been born out of a historical perception of what it means to work in public relations, which is severely out-of-date. Only earlier this year we were reminded when PR Week issued a report about the perception of our industry, with 92% of Brits thinking that PR is only used to hide the truth and the majority (62%) of respondents admitting that they don’t understand what PR is.

But perhaps this misunderstanding has worked in our industry’s favour. I know of many other like-minded PR professionals that have made it their mission to combat this misconception by delivering work that goes above and beyond generating coverage and reputation management. And despite the worrying study from PR Week, there is a lot happening in our industry that reflects the value that is placed on public relations.

Ten years ago, traditional marketing and advertising was always at the core of a business’ marketing strategy. It was the first port of call for organisations looking to generate awareness for their brand or services, and for this reason, was pivotal to any additional activity that was to be executed around it. Conventional marketing tactics would have certainly been the dominating factor and influenced the type of PR and comms that would be delivered alongside it.

It used to be advertising that built trust in a brand, but now I would say it’s much more likely to come from an authentic story, which can be told in a number of different ways, from stakeholder engagement to social media. It actually tends to be a mixture of tactics that builds trust, but PR is becoming the prominent driving force, rather than advertising. With PR doing most of the work to build trust, it has a knock-on effect on brand endorsements, influence and reputation.

In the last few years I’ve noticed this shift significantly, with more value being placed on the role of PR within larger marketing campaigns. From new business briefs to ongoing account work, it’s become apparent how much our roles as PR consultants influence the wider strategic plans for a business and informs the development and delivery of wider marketing activities.

This is happening because the industry, and those that work with PR professionals, are starting to realise that successful public relations goes way beyond a hard-working press office function and purely generating coverage. We have ideas, we are story tellers and for businesses looking to engage and influence their audiences, doing this right is essential to a successful campaign.

At Aberfield, we pride ourselves on what we’re able to deliver for our clients because of the wider impact our work and thinking is able to achieve. And it’s this quality of work that’s helping to not only shake negative perceptions, but to position PR as the most valued part of the marketing mix.

So, what’s changing in the industry that’s allowing PR to take centre stage:

  1. Blurred barriers between PR and marketing

Integrated campaigns that blend PR and marketing are becoming more prominent. If audience insight is used correctly, then quite often it can become clear that using traditional PR or marketing tactics aren’t going to be effective, which naturally leads to a more integrated approach. The fact that there’s now dedicated awards category for those campaigns that do bring together a variety of tactics is a clear indication on how this work is being recognised within the industry. This is helping put a spotlight on the positive influence PR can have and demonstrate how integral it is to the strategy development of a campaign.

  1. New audiences

As younger audiences (e.g. millennials and Gen Z) make up most consumers in the UK today, the need to adjust how we approach campaigns has allowed the PR industry to muscle in and flex its knowledge and expertise in these areas. These new audiences buy into brands that have a compelling story, they want to associate with organisations that have a social consciousness, which means that we need to be telling a story to bring these audiences on a journey.  

  1. The rise of digital and data

Marketing isn’t the only discipline that is using data. The rise of digital has given all of us access to insight to not only inform how we understand our audiences, but also how we can track and report successes. PR is no different in this sense, and related to my first point regarding integrated campaigns, it’s not just about media relations anymore, it is made up of social media (both organic and advertising), content creation, marketing… the list goes on.

Being able to use insight in this way has allowed PR to become part of wider marketing conversations. Combining this with how we approach engaging core audiences and adopting a more integrated approach, it’s unsurprising that PR is becoming the most prominent strategic pillar in the marketing mix.

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