PR agencies need to tell the story of their own abilities

PR professionals are masters of storytelling on any platform - they just need to convince clients.

Once upon a time, brand-building PR amplified above-the-line campaigns and sponsorship assets and told media 'new' news with a creative hook to drive positive coverage.

Then along came the big grizzly internet and it was thought only specialist digital agencies could deliver this new style of storytelling. Some PR agencies were slower than others to upskill, so marketing teams briefed the new trendy digital agencies. There were PR agencies that embraced this new-fangled approach and looked at their structure and capabilities. Soon after, more PR agencies realised they too could deliver excellent social media strategies and content, but sadly by then they were not seen as experts and briefs were living happily ever after with digital agencies.

Sound familiar?

Excuse the storytelling analogy, but my point is that the PR discipline and skillset totally understands the art of storytelling and how to generate credible earned media for brands.

Many, many years ago an MD at a PR agency mentioned the rise of 'citizen journalism' by bloggers (who knew?) and social networking sites (OMG really?) as a new force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, that meeting was way too early to convince marketing to spend money to reach this new emerging force of influencers and these channels were easily dismissed as niche.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying PR agencies don't do social media well, but from a client perspective the perception is that perhaps other specialist agencies do it better. Digital agencies understand technology, drill into analytics and insights and approach social media just as an ad agency approaches a creative brief. In a world where we are looking for simplicity, I genuinely believe PR agencies are well placed to translate an insight or brand idea into a relevant and engaging conversation. PR people are masters of storytelling in the context of earned media. For too long now we have pushed storytelling into digital strategies when fundamentally the two disciplines work best together by starting with the story and using technology as the enabler.

The pillars of publicity, content amplification and finding an engaging hook still stand whether you are talking to media or consumers. So why are brands turning to separate agencies to deliver something inherent in the PR DNA?

For now we need to collaborate with all agencies and focus the PR lens on storytelling at the beginning of the brand planning cycle, with a view on all audiences to deliver earned media. PR needs to demonstrate strong insights, a real-world lens and the ability to deliver effective storytelling with measurable results.

In future, PR needs to be at the forefront in driving more community engagement on and offline. Strategic PR can help give consumers who want to be more actively involved in brand decisions a voice through its understanding of cultural influences, telling stories in a real-world context.

As people expect more two-way engagement from brands, the PR skillset will surely allow PR mastery in storytelling to prevail.

Joan O'Connor is head of brand PR, Coca-Cola North West Europe and Nordics.

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