Log on to Twitter and it’s easy to find companies getting trashed for careless business practices (like creating an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico). On Facebook, corporations have their fan pages inundated with negative comments about lackluster customer service and local restaurants get to read reviews from unsatisfied guests. In an age of social media, it may appear to many that the PR industry is facing challenges that are threatening its very existence. Companies seem to be left defenseless to open mass media critique at any time from just about anybody with an internet connection.
Despite these new challenges, PR is going through an age of revitalization. Over the past year, PR has been adapting new techniques to reach consumers, and expanding in ways never seen before.
Traditionally, PR has fought to establish itself as more than just fluff; immeasurable marketing or meaningless corporate rhetoric. The PR industry has had to rely on relationships with journalists as the sole channel to broadcast messages. Now the PR industry is using new media to develop a complex identity. This new identity blends with other pieces of the communications puzzle, as PR practitioners take on a hybrid role as journalists, advertisers, and marketers.
PR professionals can now reach consumers directly. Companies are taking on endeavors such as running microsites with blogs about philanthropy initiatives or creating viral videos and vignettes. Social media has given companies the chance to extend a brand image that can connect with consumers.
PR messaging can explore its full potential by using these opportunities to reach audiences in a way that traditional advertising cannot. These strategies try to engage the consumer and get them involved with the brand culture, rather than openly trying to sell goods or services. The best part? Many of these PR initiatives can be completed at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.
This new type of PR presents the opportunity to combine journalistic prowess with marketing savvy in new ways. Online communities such as “MomsLikeMe” (a great target for the ever-important young mom audience), can be used to reach particular demographics in particular geographic locations. Not only can this be used to set up product giveaways or announce an upcoming sale or promotion, but it also plays a vital role in generating positive brand appeal, initiating customer conversation, and getting direct feedback. Companies that combine PR and journalism to craft engaging websites (for both company domains and social media fan pages) can benefit from increased customer loyalty. Who would have thought that PR would ever be so unquestionably linked to CRM and better customer service efforts?
With all these changes, it is clear that there is indeed value for public relations in 2010. Is PR the new dominant form of marketing in a social age?
The simple answer is no. The most important thing to take away from this is that the media industry is evolving. Companies need to increasingly work toward integration and away from specialized teams. PR is becoming an amalgamation of journalism, advertising, and marketing, and it will become more and more vital to have skills across all of these areas to succeed in media and communications. Accomplishing goals, whether that is establishing a positive brand portrait, launching a new ad campaign, or promoting philanthropy events, is contingent upon coordination across all platforms.
It isn’t the hit, creative viral video that is going to bring automatic business success. It’s the hit viral video that links to engaging Facebook and Twitter accounts with interesting articles, blogs, contests, and company endeavors. It’s the ability to easily use these sites to find a product, peruse user reviews and recommendations, or voice customer service concerns. It’s the TV commercial that drives excitement over a new mobile app and the mobile app that leads a customer to the nearest store location.
The entire puzzle is a complicated one that demands calculated integration, and PR will most certainly continue to change and evolve as traditional media roles become outdated. Companies that have the most initiative to integrate effectively will ultimately be the ones to reap the benefits.