PR firms will thrive in big data, new media age

I just contributed to another PR Week OpEd that asked the question: What is the most important way in which the PR firm of 2017 will be different than the PR firm of today? My answer was: The PR firm of the future will not be focused solely on earned and unpaid media.

I just contributed to another PR Week OpEd that asked the question: What is the most important way in which the PR firm of 2017 will be different than the PR firm of today?

My answer was: The PR firm of the future will not be focused solely on earned and unpaid media. It will be a diversified firm that employs a variety of vehicles - digital, mobile, virtual reality - to deliver relevant content informed by predictive and behavioral data analytics to more precisely target customers, constituents, and stakeholders and influence a desired action or decision. It will deploy a strategic mix of paid, earned, shared, and owned media that can be monitored and measured directly in real time.

When I first saw the question, my original thought was to answer that it wouldn't be called a PR firm anymore. But after more deliberation, I realized that was not at all the answer I believe. I've long held that PR is a fundamental business function and can serve as a guiding light and central organizing principle for any business or organization.

Maybe we need to start thinking that PR professionals and firms are at the top of the communications and business food chain and hierarchy. We should value the perspective and discipline that we as PR professionals bring to the table.

Armed with powerful information and technology in the age of big data, that value can go even higher. Cutting-edge analytics identify exactly who is driving conversations and what content they are seeking to tailor and deliver it more precisely. This data will inform relevant, agile content that engages and helps people make decisions and take desired action. Intensive monitoring and measurement will guide the production of relevant new content in real time while tracing content sharing and building new media networks and syndication. All of this will help business and organizations spend their media budgets more wisely, impactfully, and efficiently than ever.

Public relations professionals have long understood the many parts of the marketing mix, working across multiple departments in client organizations. Likewise, public relations firms have used their nimbleness to innovate and stay ahead, oftentimes producing results more efficiently than the competition.

PR firms in general are quite adept at leveraging change, especially those that have shifted their models and strategies in recognition of the importance of digital, online, social, and mobile communications. We are increasingly seeing the role of communications and PR pros within companies and organizations take on a broader remit than ever before because communications are happening in real-time online where multiple stakeholders are seeing it all at once.

Organizations and companies can no longer communicate in silos and increasingly have to speak with one unified voice — something the PR profession is particularly well-trained and suited to help them do well.

Inherently, PR professionals have always had to be adaptable “jacks of all trades,” adept at multiple elements of the marketing mix and working across organizations on a variety of communications challenges. They have had to do so under tight budgets producing ROI more cost effectively than other types of professionals and consultancies.

They also have spent a lot of time in the line of fire dealing with time-sensitive crises, having to respond in real time to stakeholders, media, and customers. Responsiveness and transparency with relative speed and immediacy have always been qualities the best PR professionals possess, and never have those been more important than in the new social and digital media age. 

PR firms will keep pace with the fast-changing economic and media environment by hiring a variety of talents, grounding strategy, content, and ideas in analytics and research, measuring results, and adjusting accordingly in real time along the way. By staying nimble and adaptable, firms can stay ahead of what promises to be a perpetually changing media, economic, and business landscape.

My view is that it has never been a better time for the industry. PR firms that are willing and able to adapt to and embrace the age of big data will still call themselves PR firms and thrive in 2017 and beyond.

Jim Weiss is chairman and CEO of W2O Group.

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