PRs need to show their true worth

PRs risk losing their place as the true authors of brand storytelling unless they demonstrate their true worth and learn to integrate.

Last month I spoke at a brand storytelling event where a fellow speaker managed to get up my nose. I’m not one for falling out with fellow speakers, but on this occasion values won over virtue. First, we were told consumers were turning into goldfish, with three-second attention spans, and soon would have chips in their brains that blocked out advertising. 

We then heard about this amazing new thing called story­telling. Apparently human beings love stories. Apparently this is the future of comms. And to get it right, the most important thing is to learn from the world of publishing.

Really? 

While publishers are great at finding stories and giving a story scale, it is PRs who author those stories in media (controversial – Ed) and they are the people media agencies really need to learn from. They know best how to create stories that win the attention of the world’s media, the toughest critics by far.

Why, therefore, would you as a media agency that professes to be passionate about storytelling ignore one of your most valuable partnerships? Why not collaborate with your PR colleagues to realise the true potential of brilliant stories to better capture your audience’s attention? 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have it in for media agencies. I’ve forged great relationships with some brilliant and truly insightful media planners along the way. But the approach outlined by that speaker struck me as foolish. The world has changed; paid and earned media need to establish a modern, equal marriage, not a Don Draper marriage from the 1960s.

If we really want people to engage in quality conversations and stories about our brands, we need to earn that right to be heard. Alongside earned results, we need to use paid to give our stories consistent volume and scale across well-chosen channels. Cutting out the earned element stops a story from truly travelling and, critically, connecting with people.

But sadly, here we are in 2015 with many PRs still struggling to prove their worth when it comes to meaty brand comms programmes. I recently judged a few well-known PR awards and came away pretty disappointed. Much of the work hadn’t moved on from three years ago and many entries hadn’t grasped what integrated meant.

Perhaps many PRs are still goldfish still swimming around the same bowl waiting for the world to truly change rather than just saying it has. So what’s the answer?

PRs have got to put a stake in the ground and demonstrate why they have such a crucial role to play in brand storytelling. PRs also need to understand how to successfully build paid into brand storytelling programmes. Integration and collaboration is everything. Every discipline and agency has its own unique set of skills that need to be embraced to create campaigns that work. For brand storytelling, those skills sit with PR. But we just can’t and shouldn’t do it alone.   

Frankie Oliver is joint MD of Fever

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