More and more we’re seeing a lot of public debate about the value of PR (public relations). There has been substantial scrutiny about its value as a transformative business tool. I think we all know just how transformative bad PR can be. We’ve seen some major crisis hit companies hard, with the #metoo and #timesup movements, as well as a litany of poorly performing politicians, business and community leaders etc. So why do companies question the value of PR as a critical element of business? Why do leading minds think that automation and mass proliferation is the answer?
Perhaps a sign of the times, firms are trending towards a re-imagining of public communications deeper into the digital realm; in particular social media. So, could AI replace the PR professional? What AI can’t deliver the kind of trust it takes to realize exceptional engagement and value. Many senior executives however, see the (dare I say) the ‘avant-garde’ nature of digital communications, in particular when combined with the instantaneous nature of reporting metrics as particularly sexy. Business leaders salivate over tantalizingly easy analytics can be quickly spun into definable ROI. Simple. Clear. Efficient. But effective?
Alternatively, traditional PR purists have turned to their own digital platforms, including blasting out press releases to the unwashed masses. It’s cheap(ish), and also demonstrates the immediacy of metrics. This format can return significant volume of impressions and outlet pick up, but often not real engagement. PR firms often wave these figures around as a statement of effectiveness, traction and return on investment. However, this too has met with limited meaningful impact. Organizations often want big bang for limited investment. To some, this provides that and more. In reality though, it’s very minimal sizzle, and definitely no steak.
Some argue this openly – such as this recent article in which, Kevin Akeroyd, CEO of Cision suggests “The overall volume of press releases both in the U.S. and globally, as well as price per press release, is at an all-time high.” This means there is a lot of noise out there and while there are some metrics that show a mirage of pick up, firms are likely not getting the meaningful engagement they are hoping (and paying) for. Just this morning, I got an email that outlined how “press release performance continues to be a pain point and gaining meaningful ROI is a key goal.”
Operationally, we’ve seen how shrinking PR budgets, compromised resourcing and staff reductions combined with dramatically increased skepticism around things like ‘fake news’ have resulted in operational changes against marketing and PR budgets. Complicating things is the decade-long destabilization within the news business itself. More than ever before reporters are covering multiple sectors (beats) which means they are often chasing deadlines for stories across multiple industries and more often than not have limited meaningful understanding of a unique business. As such, the opportunity to generate real meaningful engagement with reporters continues to diminish.
So what is a firm to do? Demanding more for less is always an option. This is the very premise of the quote “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” There are no silver bullets in generating outstanding public communication and engagement. It requires investment in the right people/team, resourcing them and generating great content. There are no simple solutions. Create a budget, a plan and execute ferociously. There are really no shortcuts to generating meaningful engagement.
An effective strategy doesn’t favour one or the other, it embraces both the digital and traditional. The best asset you can deliver is a strong strategy that has defined executional elements and that can return strong ROI however, that ROI must be considered across multiple veins. A strong relationship with a reporter takes time to cultivate. A good strategy needs time to mature. While the promise of social media’s instant returns may get you likes and shares, will it get you shareholder confidence or sales?