For our final post to end the year and look forward to 2019, let’s turn to the marketing component that is perhaps undergoing the most significant transition: Public Relations. PR was once universally recognized as the bread and butter for communications activities, the core element of any marketing program. That’s no longer the case, as publications that a generation ago would readily cover almost any technology pitch have seen their print ads shrink. As a result, they have drastically cut back on reporters and news coverage as they scramble to define their business models in the digital age.
As a result, public relations firms are having to work harder to create their own opportunities to get coverage for their clients. Instead of a reporter writing on a topic, editors now ask for submitted bylines that they can print – which makes perfect sense, since that’s free content that agencies are providing on behalf of their clients.
Public relations, as a practice, is in need of a significant overhaul. Media relations is not simply a subset of PR, which must focus on a much broader range of channels to reach prospects and customers. This means that influencer marketing, paid content, submitted bylines, content syndicators, specialty websites, and even trade associations must now be part of the outreach mix. It’s not enough to rely purely on earned coverage – practitioners must look for new, creative ways to get their messages out to core audiences.
Some of this is self-preservation. As the economy slows, PR is the first marketing practice to take the hit.
Here is what see as the most important public relations trends for 2019:
Influencer Marketing is on the Rise. Identifying, engaging, and recruiting influencers who have their own followers will be the biggest change for 2019. Understanding which ones have the most valuable followers will be a challenge requiring more sophisticated social measurement tools. Learning how to pitch influencers will mean a steep learning curve, as many influencers try to figure out their value in the market and on the social media channels where they thrive.
Public Relations Must Drive Better Content. Instead of drafters of press releases for clients, PR agencies must evolve into content providers that know how to produce rich, graphical content that can attract attention. Visual assets – which require a creative team in addition to media relations experts – will be essential to delivering content that can be quickly posted for key audiences to see.
Building Relationships. Press releases will still serve a purpose – sometimes a legal requirement and other times as a shorthand tool for reporters. But more important for PR agencies is the ability to build relationships with target audiences across multiple channels. Social media will play a part, but so will communications to targets through a regular cadence of outreach that includes emails, eNewsletters, blog posts, and other content formats.
Blurring the Line. The once-thick-but-now-fine line between public relations and marketing will continue to blur. Long-form client-generated content is getting more popular for several reasons. First, you control every word and don’t have to worry about lousy quotes, misinformation, or competitors being included higher up in the article. Second, publishers are desperately trying to find new revenue streams, so they will continue to push paid native advertising as a way to reach customers and generate more cash. And third, customers would rather hear from experts within companies than reporters who most likely are not as technically proficient.
It’s All About the Metrics. The impact and value of earned media have traditionally been difficult to measure. Agencies must go beyond the typical share of voice, reach and ad value equivalency metrics to include more useful tools that connect the audience with actions. One start-up described in a recent Wall Street Journal article has created a service to measure readership information of articles that specifically mention brands. Look for more analytics tools from Google and other platforms that can connect more of the communications software stacks together for a better look at how prospects are reacting to PR campaigns.
These are all pretty big changes in how we approach the public relations programs we deliver for our clients. Making the shift won’t be easy, but it’s essential to drive results.