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Hooked! PR’s gone mainstream in the age of social media

It’s an interesting time to be in public relations. Just like our peers in the marketing world, a few years ago social media disrupted business as we knew it. It not only chartered new territories from which to engage consumers, it also empowered the very same consumers with lots and lots of choice – choice to turn off advertising/marketing/PR that they didn’t like or they considered dull.
This shift in power from marketer to consumer has had a massive impact on the rules of the branding game; instead of telling consumers what they should like, buy or covet, brands and services need to appeal to their interests so that they like/share/post/retweet their content, and with enough Klout, will influence all their friends to do so too.

Sounds pretty straight-forward; yet being appealing takes a fair bit of effort. For one, the consumer has to find what is being marketed at them relevant. Yet this is what PR people have always done best. Relevance is the heart of good media relations after all – offer a journalist a news-worthy angle that taps into public conversation and is tailored to their audience, and chances are they will run with it.

But the press isn’t what it used to be – just look at the iconic Newsweek that on 31st December 2012 published its last ever hard copy emblazoned with the apt headline of #lastprintissue. This shift from traditional to digital has meant that, just like everyone else, PR has had to adapt to the new world of digital landscapes, social influence and compelling content, to itself, remain relevant.

Fortunately despite this game-change, some fundamentals remain. Such as the ever-increasing need and value in having a strong ‘hook’. The centre piece of any PR story worth its salt, the hook is designed to appeal to consumers’ interests and identity, and encourage them to spread the video/article/photo/tweet/post to their networks, and their networks and their networks. Otherwise, just like offering a journalist a story without an angle, it will see as much airtime as a has-been pop star.

And it’s because of this ‘hook’ that I think it’s an interesting time to be in public relations. What has been a PR staple ever since it made its debut in the early 1900s, appears to have gone marketing mainstream. In fact, it was Jim Paul, EVP of Weber Shandwick who said at a recent Holmes Report round-table event among ex-marketers and advertisers, “Whatever we used to do was to get attention; we didn’t think about who was going to cover it! Who cares about who covers it, it’s a great idea! Well, that’s not the world we live in: It’s now come up with a great idea that also has a hook that people will carry and get out there and get impressions. So that battle between “great idea” and “we have a job to do” is something I definitely need to get up to speed with.” Touché!

This is both thrilling and terrifying for PR. Thrilling because its appears as if its bread and butter has reached a tipping point; terrifying because creating relevant, engaging and compelling content is no longer just its domain; it’s everyone’s within the marketing mix.

The opportunity this creates, or challenge depending on how one views it, is for PR to integrate its best practice, through-the-line, so that a sharable story which strongly resonates with its audience is at the heart of the next ‘The Big Idea’.

Rebecca Cronje is a speaker at this year’s IMC conference where she will share some best practices by showing some integrated campaign case studies which have a good PR idea at their core.

Author | Rebecca Cronje

Rebecca Cronje
Rebecca Cronje kicked off her PR career 10 years ago, only after she received her academic credits (B.A Psychology, and English Literature) from Stellenbosch University and returned from the mandatory trip back-packing around Europe. She’s now Atmosphere's Head of Strategy, a position she took up in September 2012. This... More