A Challenge to Communications Professionals – Join The uPRising!
PR has always been an intellectually stimulating and exciting career. It’s a career for the deeply curious, the passionate and the creative. Public Relations professionals are uniquely situated to dive into subjects and issues that span and spark emotions, behaviors, and actions. They get to engage with fascinating people and ideas; they start conversations that change outcomes for brands and society.
Today, the industry is at perhaps the most consequential point in its history. As technology fundamentally transforms all communications, extraordinary opportunities are opening for PR professionals to deepen their roles as trusted advisors to their clients. But to do so, we must leave behind the outdated notions of PR professionals as press release pushers and spin doctors, and instead, focus on the industry’s ability to forge authentic relationships between organizations and people.
PR’s Evolution To PUBLISHING + RELATIONSHIPS
It is our core belief that strategic communications can meaningfully address virtually all of life’s challenges or opportunities. We believe that PR’s time is now, should the profession rise up and accept the challenge. This requires moving away from old definitions of the field as “Public Relations” to instead recognize PR as the catalyst and driver of “Publishing & Relationships.”
Alone among the marketing disciplines, PR’s command of the tools of earned media enables its professionals to deliver high value experiences to strategic influencers, who then can reach targeted audiences of consumers and stakeholders. It is this unrivalled ability to combine valuable experiences with rich influencer relationships that will allow PR to serve as the engagement engine of modern day strategic communications.
THE “CONSUMER SPRING” – SHIFT FROM CONTROL TO INFLUENCE
What has afforded PR professionals such a tremendous window of opportunity? It’s simple in theory, but complex in practice. The rise of a consumer-driven economy has shifted the mechanisms of marketing from control to influence. We could call this a “Consumer Spring.”
In decades’ past, brands had much more control over the messages they projected to the market. They could manipulate brand definitions and push their messages out to a far less critical audience. No more. In today’s economy, it’s the audience that defines a brand. Consumers identify with brands based on their values and, more importantly, on shared values.
Authenticity, purpose and meaning—as defined by customers – are now paramount. Consumers are quick to embrace organizations that share their values and aspirations. As Chuck D says, today “you have to get people to buy into you before they buy from you.”
Another central factor in the rise of a “Consumer Spring” is the sharing economy. Customers can shape brands by sharing to the world their personal experiences and opinions of the products and services of the organization. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon Reviews, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other user-generated review platforms make it easy for everyone to publish their opinions.
But here’s the thing: most people only take the time to write reviews when they’ve had either a subpar experience or a remarkable experience. This means that small numbers of customers can have an outsized effect on brands – and companies ignore this impact at their peril.
The do-it-yourself economy provides brands with unprecedented opportunities to become trusted advisors to their target audiences. With a deep understanding of their customer personas, companies can create and distribute the exact content those targets are actively seeking, in the format they want – they are at their customers’ precise point of need.
THE CONTENT VALUE EXCHANGE
With so much information so readily available, there has also been a rapid rise in the do-it-yourself economy. Twenty years ago, you had to figure out for yourself how to install a new sink in your bathroom. People now can turn to online resources and social media and find step-by-step instructions published by a trusted advisor, who might be a blogger, a YouTube personality, an Instagrammer, an author, or even a brand spokesperson.
No matter what their background or platform might be, these content providers can become trusted advisors by virtue of what we call the Content Value Exchange. They develop, package, distribute and promote high-value content, with experiences and campaigns that target consumers and their influencers. Their success lies in providing personalized, useful and trustworthy information. In exchange, customers and influencers offer their information, time, engagement, and patronage.
THE MOBILE CONSUMER
Mobile devices, which increasingly are the platform of choice, are sparking the most significant change in strategic communications and content marketing since the emergence of the Internet. Pew research in October 2015 found that 68 percent of Americans owned a smartphone at that time. Today, that figure is expected to be much closer to 75 percent ownership. Another compelling figure is that 75 percent of all internet usage in the U.S. comes from mobile devices. And consumers are inseparable from their smartphone, with 87 percent of millennials claiming their smartphone never leaves their side.
Not surprisingly, the consumption of content and media through mobile devices continues to surge, with many people now consuming news and social media exclusively on their phones. With high resolution displays and ever-more sophisticated functions, the mobile experience continues to improve to meet consumer demand. As a result, owned media needs to begin with mobile in mind to ensure a clean user experience across all device options.
REACH PROLIFERATION & INCREASED CONSUMER CONTROLS
It has never been easier to reach the exact target audience for your product or service. Today there are more ways to do it than ever before whether it be a blend of geographic, technographic, time-of-day, behavioral, demographic or contextual targeting. Since the rise of the Internet, big data and data collection has become synonymous with our day-to-day lives, slowly building informed profiles for each web user that savvy marketers can tap into. And because the majority of Americans have at least one mobile device, this collection of relevant data is more accessible and informative than ever.
But just as brands are developing more precise avenues to reach their customers, consumer control is now restricting that reach. The DVR burst onto the scene some years back and allowed viewers to skip broadcast TV commercials. Then came the explosion of commercial-free online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube Red. For a small monthly fee, viewers don’t have to deal with commercials at all. Similarly, ad-blocker services effectively strip out paid ads from web browsing, leaving users with a cleaner, less cluttered experience.
CONSUMER TRUST INDEX
Thanks to these enhanced controls, consumers can now avoid advertising interruptions in their content experiences. With paid media becoming less effective, earned and owned content has become even more valuable. According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media above all other forms of marketing. However, most of the traditional platforms for this earned media – newspapers, magazines, TV, cable and radio – are facing existential threats to their business models.
Newspapers and magazines are going out of business. TV stations are seeing ad dollars plummet. Broadcast and cable networks are watching their ratings dwindle. Radio stations are automating, consolidating, or changing formats in attempts to stay profitable. As traditional media platforms contract, there are fewer opportunities and increased competition for earned coverage. But what has to be understood is that the consumption of media is still high; it’s just shifting from traditional to new media and influencers.
A CALL TO uPRise
The convergence of all of these trends is focusing C-suite attention on whether strategic marketers can deliver measurable results against organizational goals. There are mounting pressures on marketing departments to be more accountable for the dollars they spend and the outcomes they produce. This emphasis on attribution is being driven not only by a demand for ROI accountability but also by increased access to data to verify effectiveness.
To succeed in this era of constant scrutiny, tightening budgets, and endless analytics, the PR profession must demonstrate its ability to produce concrete results for clients. Fortunately, effective PR professionals don’t sit and wait for something to happen. We make things happen by developing and promoting experiences and forging relationships with influencers and stakeholders.
And when we design impactful campaigns, create meaningful content, or talk to people about what matters most to them, we can engage the power of earned media to provide real value for clients and for consumers. This is how we successfully harness the power of Publishing + Relationships.
This is our time. This is our uPRising. Join us!