PR is changing, it is hard to put up an argument against this. But are the traditional methods of PR still valid in this digital age? Take a look at this recent article in Tourism, journal of the Tourism Society and make a date to attend the HMA PR meeting in May which will be debating around the topic. More details available soon.
If, as I suspect, you are reading this article in the printed version of Tourism, it would seem that some pundits prediction that communicating via magazines and newspapers is dead, may be exaggerated. However, it cannot be denied that things have changed radically in the world of public relations and more changes are afoot.
This notion was brought home to me in no uncertain terms recently when I was judging the PR category for an industry awards event. Despite the fact that the criteria clearly stated that social media activity should form part of the submission, very few entries included this information. And those that did, dropped it in as an after-thought. The tried and tested press release/media launch event driven PR programme was the preferred option for the majority of entries. In other words, the traditional PR approach rather than using digital strategies.
Interestingly, the winning entry that gained consensus amongst the judges predominantly used digital PR techniques but also employed traditional methods of communication, all of which was under-pinned with strong creativity.
As the use of Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram by marketers and PR practitioners continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, the traditional PR modus operandi appears to be on the wane. Some claim that the days of writing a press release and distributing it in the hope of achieving coverage in print or broadcast media, are gone. Similarly, the standard PR agency model of an account team comprising a director, manager and executive working on a client’s business in a single location is becoming a thing of the past.
Communication is no longer a nine ‘til five business. For example, Lisa Minot, travel editor of The Sun newspaper, will often tweet out of office hours requesting urgent information for an article she is
preparing. So who in the PR agency is checking the Twitter feed at 8pm and has the product knowledge and authority to respond? Most journalists can now be reached 24/7 via Twitter and other social media channels. And not just by PRs, by companies and consumers too.
This new way of working has led to a shift in message control. The traditional route of issuing a news release and hoping for coverage as highlighted above means that the media decides how, when and where the message will appear, if at all. However, by putting the story out through digital channels, you are in control and can potentially reach millions of people at low cost, at a time that fits with the audiences and the message.
Another area in which the traditional PR model is being challenged is the new rules that internet search engines are applying to attract quality content. The media is well aware of this move and is adapting the way it generates content to ensure a high ranking on Google and the like. These new parameters have created a more level playing field, for example, the operator of a small blog with good technical search engine optimization knowledge, consistently producing quality content that attracts a high level of hits, could be competing for a high ranking slot with a major media title such as The Telegraph.
So is PR dead? Well, in the short term, no. Without doubt, digital PR will grab the high ground and ultimately overtake the traditional ways of communicating news. Meantime, the way to go is to harness both in harmony as per the successful award entry referred to earlier. Longer term? I predict that we will see more PR agencies merging with digital marketing companies to offer clients a more integrated communications service with a truly demonstrable ROI.
Bugsgang & Associates Travel & Leisure PR