With the global adoption of digital, a lot has been said about the PR industry. Unfortunately, not always positive.
Take, for example, keeping up with social media and online channels to develop appropriate skills and offer the type of services that clients nowadays need has been a painful challenge. Not to mention then measurement which has been PR's biggest problem since its very existence.
So how does PR stay relevant?
To figure this out, we need to first analyse our current reality.
When we think about the past two decades, there are two key things brands and their PR people need to consider:
- Our consumer and purchasing behaviours have changed, massively.
- If you don’t have an online presence, you don’t exist.
Let’s start with the first one.
The way we are influenced, make decisions and buy things has fundamentally changed. We used to rely on direct sales and direct mail, TV and magazine ads or media endorsements. 20-30 years ago we didn’t have the internet, we couldn’t really do much research. So we got our information from TV and the radio and we relied on sales people to educate us on products as there was nowhere else to find reviews. We also didn’t need much convincing as the array of choice for products and services wasn’t that extensive.
That’s no longer the case today.
We are a lot more sophisticated and empowered with hundreds of tools and technology. When we have a problem and need to solve it, the first thing we do is to go online and search for it. We go to Google or Facebook search, we type our problem, we check out websites and blogs and brands, we look at their social media presence, we chat to friends to get recommendations, we dig deeper into specific brands and compare them. And then often we don’t even need to speak to a sales person to choose what we want to buy. If it’s a bigger, for example, B2B software decision, then we might rely on sales experts.
Essentially, we educate ourselves through the content that we find and we make our decisions on our own based on the content that we actively come across.
We Love Content and You Need to Be Great At It
Here’s where the second key point comes into play. If I can’t find your brand online when I’m doing my research to solve my problem, you basically don’t exist. If you haven't used Inbound PR or marketing to create and strengthen your own online presence, I’m going to ignore you and ultimately not buy from you.
In addition, we don’t like when someone interrupts our research and content consumption process (like ads – we skip them). But we like to be engaged, enticed, and drawn into something interesting.
And that’s what inbound is all about. It’s about attracting people with the right, remarkable content that they would like to see.
Two decades ago, there were fewer journalists, fewer media outlets. Now there are thousands and thousands. The only way back then to get into the papers or on TV and radio was through the media. Now you can use your own website for news and YouTube channel for airtime.
The Internet and social media completely changed the media landscape. They enabled a new era of two-way conversations where everyone can publish stories and reach a global audience in real time. This empowerment of individuals to have their demands heard has led to a fundamental shift in how brands are expected to behave and communicate.
As Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism illustrates so well, we are at the centre of our own universe. I am the most important person in my life. And brands have to catch up with me. Brian Solis calls this Digital Darwinism where digital moves faster than brand’s ability to adapt.
There are Too Many Stakeholders and Influencers
It's not just consumers anymore, though. Brands today have too many stakeholders and interest groups that build up a huge social graph. Employees, vendors, investors and suppliers have become a lot more vocal. The media is also not just journalists anymore – it’s bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, all influencers that have a huge voice and can influence consumers and their behaviours.
To top this, anyone can be an influencer today. Think about Michelle Phan. When she was 17 she started with a personal make-up blog then transitioned to doing YouTube make-up tutorials. She now has over eight million subscribers, billions of views on her videos and makes millions. Her net worth is five million dollars. And it was all just a hobby. She now has a huge voice. Brands are killing it to work with her.
Even journalists build their own brands – for example, in the autumn of 2016 Facebook started offering online courses for journalists that focus on three areas: discovering content, creating stories and building an audience.
The influencer landscape is not just immense but a driving force in today's digital era.
All the changes that have happened to society are also driving the world of business and how it needs to adapt. The same applies to PR and as we've uncovered so far some of the major reasons why PR needs to go inbound include:
- Consumer buying behaviour has not only changed but is harder to influence.
- Brands need an online presence because otherwise they don't exist in the eyes of consumers.
- There are too many influencers and stakeholder groups so that traditional PR activities like press releases is not enough.
All this change in technology, consumer and influencer behaviours, leads us to believe that traditional PR is outdated.
Outbound PR Interrupts. Inbound PR Attracts.
PR people just drafting a press release and mass emailing it to their entire media list is outbound and it doesn’t work. Shift Communications – a PR agency I’m a big fan of – did a research recently using Google Analytics data and found that there are 1092 press releases being sent every day. That adds up to about almost 400,000 press releases in 2016. But barely anyone clicks on them or reads them because they are not targeted.
What’s more, with that many influencers out there, if PR people were to only do media relations, they can’t reach the mass of stakeholders and influencers that we have today. No wonder then that PR pros far outnumber journalists today – according to the US Department of Labour, there are 4.6 PR pros to one journalist in the USA; according to a Canadian census, that number is 4.1 to 1, and according to a research in the UK by the PRCA, the number is about almost 2 PR pros to 1 journalist.
However, the one to one to many approach that was prevalent before – client -> PR person -> all the journalists – no longer works because no one pays attention. There’s too much noise to cut through.
So the biggest reason why PR needs to be doing Inbound PR is because Outbound PR interrupts. It’s pushy and not relevant to our needs or experiences.
But an Inbound PR approach is because it attracts and is targeted to a specific stakeholder group. It’s about being human-centred with content that is relevant, remarkable and created for that specific audience and her needs.
What do you think PR needs to do to stay relevant?
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