It is time for PR to reclaim digital comms

PR may have lost a few battles along the way, but clear signs are emerging that it's slowly winning the digital war.

Alec Mattinson: Digital comms reclaimed
Alec Mattinson: Digital comms reclaimed

According to Pearlfinders, PR agencies have begun to win back work from specialist digital agencies that were able to provide services and expertise with which the PR industry hadn't got to grips. (Read more on the research.)

A cursory look at new business opportunities shows why this is vital - just this week PRWeek has reported on a digital-centric tourism brief for South Africa and a National Lottery PR pitch that specifies the need for digital expertise.

It is certainly no secret that building a scalable and robust digital offering has dominated the thinking of most agency bosses in recent years.

Whether through acquisitions such as GolinHarris' purchase of Fuse, mergers like Threepipe and Blowfish or organic investment, PR agencies have acquired the tools to move beyond using social media as just another publishing platform and into content creation.

This shift in emphasis of digital work has enabled the industry to bite back to reclaim its piece of the digital pie. The move from social to content has changed the digital battle among the marketing disciplines to one that should now be played on PR's home turf.

Many of the specialist digital agencies have advertising hard-wired into their DNA, emerging in an era where online was a one-way publishing channel.

As the online conversation morphs into creative engagement and influence, PR has the track record to now lead brands' digital campaigning.

The excellent digital work of creative agencies is rightly paying dividends: the next major issue is how this shift from coverage to content impacts on corporate comms.

Corporate audiences have proved to be a rather more difficult audience to engage on a meaningful basis - the web is, after all, littered with corporate videos with views barely in double figures.

The challenge now is to produce digital corporate content that is compelling in its own right. As one corporate agency MD told me: 'We're not longer in a competition of coverage - it's a competition of ideas.'

With US authorities green-lighting regulatory communication through social media last month, it is clear that digital corporate and financial comms is the next frontier to be cracked.

PR's progress in reclaiming ground in the consumer digital space suggests the industry will at least be up for the fight.

alec.mattinson@haymarket.com.

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