Disruptors and the End of Digital: The Future of PR

There’s a lot of talk about where the future of PR lies. Much like its brethren marketing and, to a degree, advertising, PR is at a crucial juncture – where does the industry go to keep evolving and moving forward?

After all, despite the great work being carried out by forward-thinking professionals in the space, it’s clear the mainstream (you know, the people that really count) still see PR as a shady backwater mud hole. Even if out-of-date thinking skews the arguments put forward by those people, it doesn’t matter if the people reading those pieces don’t see what’s really happening in the PR industry.

So does that mean PR should just skulk away and accept that it will never be seen as anything other than a profession full of spin doctors? Far from it – but there does need to be a continuing adoption of new thinking, forward thinking, and sheer hard work just to keep beating the new thinking drum until it reverberates in more dusty halls.

Accept the Disruptors

One of the accusations often thrown at the PR industry is that agencies and professionals are clinging to the belief that they should control the message. From client news to product launches to crisis countering, only the most positive and accepting of news outlets should be used and approved.

This approach won’t move the industry forward. Nor will it help to counter the incorrect thinking that this is the norm for the PR industry.

At the same time, companies and agencies afraid of losing control aren’t seeing the bigger picture – you still control the facts. That cannot be changed. Whether they’re accepted or not has more to do with your track record in authenticity and openness than it does with the medium on which these facts are being reported.

This is where the Disruptors – those new channels and outlets, like bloggers, citizen journalists and influencers – need to be collaborated with as opposed to feared and mistrusted.

It’s not just for promotional use, either. Much like marketing, PR is often seen as putting out puffed-up information and fluff in order to part customers with their money (or, in the PR industry’s case, separate truth from fact). So use Disruptors to counter this.

  • Use tools like TraackrPulse Analytics and Nimble to connect the dots between your client and those who can influence public perception (positively and negatively);
  • Reach out to third-party Disruptors with no agenda other than sending them the latest facts and news, and allow them to disseminate as they see fit;
  • Have an accessible area on your site where Disruptors can come of their own free will and access anything they need to create content;
  • Open channels to key personnel for Disruptors to connect with and question;
  • Allow Disruptors to create content based on facts, without dictating how that content must sound, and then share that with critics and supporters alike.

This is a basic set-up, but you start to get the picture on how Disruptors shouldn’t be feared, but accepted and worked with/respected.

Leave the Turf for Your Lawn

One of my biggest pet peeves – and not just with the PR industry – is the turf war mentality that seems to pervade when disciplines clash.

Whether it’s marketing vs. PR, PR vs. advertising, or even PR vs. PR, there’s one thing that rings loud and clear – it benefits no-one. Seriously, does anyone think that beating your chest and saying, “We showed them!” makes sense? Who cares? It’s not about you, and never has been – it’s all about the result.

Four Ms of Influence Marketing

So what if marketing is a better lead for the customer acquisition part of a promotion or campaign? So what if advertising is a better lead for that native content program? Who cares if PR is the better lead for the overall strategy and what part needs to be placed where?

While the disciplines may still have core differences, at the end of the day PR, marketing and advertising have the same basic directive – get the result through allocating the right approach at the right time.

Turf wars are stupid. They belong in the playground where we have our little imaginary lines and flags to capture – they don’t belong in the modern business world, and anyone who thinks they do needs to have a serious look at how their results are panning out for them.

Integrate and cross-collaborate, people. You know it makes sense.

Forget the Term “Digital”

Perhaps the biggest shift in thinking, though, is around the terminology itself. For some reason, we’ve allowed ourselves to get sucked in by the word “digital”.

  • Digital marketing;
  • Digital consultant;
  • Digital content;
  • Digital agency;
  • Digital ads;
  • Digital PR.

And on, and on, and on. Why? Why is it so important to make the distinction? Does the thinking behind a strategy really change? No – the tactics, and what platforms/channels to use, change. But the overall strategy remains the same – what’s our goal and how are we going to achieve this, and then measure the success?

The thinking that the PR industry needs to adapt to the digital landscape is the exact reason it’s struggling with this so-called digital landscape, because – essentially – people do not change.

We’re creatures of habit. It’s why we’ll keep dating the wrong kind of person; or we’ll complain about the same bad menu at our local diner, as opposed to finding another diner.

Consumers are the same (not surprising, given that they’re, you know, people too). While research channels have evolved, the basic questions remain – can your company meet my needs and are your products reliable? And will I be looked after once I become a customer?

This question is asked in-store; on FAQ reading; on forums; on telemarketing calls; on email; and, yes, on digital. See the pattern? The channel is irrelevant – it’s the answer that matters. So stop focusing on how to be better at digital, and simply focus on how to be better, full stop.

It’s not that hard – is it?

A version of this post originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

image: RawheaD Rex

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