At a time when the new media landscape and business models are relying on content and audience reach more than ever, public relations (PR) is entering a new realm. Being utilized not just for traditional media relations, but content creation, influencer marketing, brand strategy development, and more, this evolving model calls for the need to take a step back and define what PR is, what PR isn’t, and how it can be optimized for strong business growth.

Media Convergence

The expectations and roles of PR agencies and in-house marketing teams alike have changed; brands now understand that the only way to truly see results from PR programs is to employ integrated strategies that include both traditional PR and digital marketing. While this integrated model and the convergence between PR and digital marketing have proven to be successful, there are core pillars of PR that must be understood for an effective brand strategy.

Media Post recently published a piece entitled “PR And Marketing May Be Converging, But They’re Not The Same,” on the topic of media convergence and how PR and marketing are still very different, despite the fact that many brands today are combining them into one strategy, and even job function. As an integrated agency that works on both sides of the spectrum, this article resonated strongly with our team, specifically those on the PR side. We took our own step back, thought about our experiences, and discussed what we believe to be the differences between the two disciplines.  

PR is built on deep-rooted relationships

With digital marketing and even traditionally paid ad placements, marketers are able to create very targeted parameters that allow for scheduling messaging and conducting regular monitoring; it is an ongoing, repeated process. In PR, however, the main tenet of the profession is connectivity – connectivity as it relates to relationships with target media and brand audiences, connectivity as it relates to digital and referral source traffic, and connectivity as it relates to reinforcing a brand’s knowledge and establishing it as an authoritative industry voice. To reap the benefits of PR, it is imperative for professionals to develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders, as these connections impact the success of the brand. This is done not just through consistent communication, but by establishing oneself as a knowledgeable and trusted resource that media can rely on as they write and fact-check their stories. No relationship? No story.

PR is built on credibility

Significant budgets can be very useful when it comes to marketing. If a  brand has a large budget, it can utilize paid advertisements and partnerships to manage all messaging about the company and its products, including when and where conversations are occurring. With advertisements, however, we must consider the likelihood for consumers to trust what is being said in the ads alone. PR is not built on paid opportunities, but rather on earned media, where the press is expected to speak honestly about a brand or product – what they write is their unbiased opinion. By showcasing brands and products through PR, consumers are being given a truthful representation of the brand, building credibility and establishing it as a trusted industry resource.

PR is built on potential

One of the biggest questions we get from clients is, “What results can I expect to see?” With digital marketing and paid advertisements, we can predict with a fair amount of certainty how many impressions, clicks, or sales a campaign will generate, and then confirm these numbers after the campaign. Earned PR, however, is built around the potential number of people a brand story can reach, which may make it harder to see an exact correlation between an article or review, and ultimately, sales. However, it is our job as PR practitioners to help our clients understand and see the return on investment (ROI) as it relates to our efforts. One way to do this is through monitoring the referral traffic from each piece of coverage. For example, by regularly monitoring brand coverage that links back to its Amazon product pages, the brand can identify which outlets drove the most referral traffic to each Amazon page, making these outlets high ROI press. The data can then be used to target other high ROI publications, thus continuing the cycle of driving traffic to a site where readers can purchase products, inevitably increasing sales.

PR is built on ingenuity

Thanks to the sophistication of digital marketing, professionals in the field have numerous tools available to help identify the best opportunities and find the audiences a brand wants to get in front of. While there are a number of websites and tools available to help determine reach and site traffic for media outlets, PR still relies very heavily on traditional research and developing a vetting process that identifies the outlets, editors, or influencers that would be most interested in learning about your brand. Whereas an ad can be created with just a few variations in messaging and still reach a broad audience, media outlets and influencers must be treated as individual, separate entities. Every media outlet or influencer is going to reach its own unique audience and in turn, each audience will connect with a different angle or message. As is the case with digital targeting, research is paramount in crystallizing the right message to ensure that it resonates with all target constituencies involved – the media outlet, editor, and influencer.       

As with any activity that requires an investment, brands expect to see tangible results that aid in gauging success. With digital marketing, you will definitely see these results in various forms, including an increase in sales for the specific product that was promoted. With PR, however, there will be a combination of both tangible and intangible results, and seeing these takes a bit more time. As PR practitioners, we are able to draw correlations between our efforts and meeting client goals. For example, to increase sales from a PR perspective, you need to first drive brand awareness, and to do that, we rely on earned media tactics that establish credibility for the brand. These are more about long-term goals than short-term results.

As the new media landscape continues to evolve, understanding and utilizing the most relevant PR tactics is key. Tapping into the best tactic as part of the overall integrated strategy is a driving factor behind a successful business plan, and ultimately, growth.

What do you think is the biggest difference between traditional PR and marketing? Leave us a comment below to let us know.

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