David Brain: PR agencies, prepare for battle in 2016

The smartest digital PR agencies will be ready to enter the media-buying fray, writes Edelman's David Brain, president & CEO of Edelman APACMEA

David Brain
David Brain

It is a ‘truth universally acknowledged’ that the TV-first approach to brand building erodes every year, but it is also (to mix my metaphors) an ‘inconvenient truth’ that it is hard to scale engagement and content strategies to fill the gap, especially to clients with a ‘Byron Sharp’ type of belief in achieving increased market penetration with all the reach and frequency required.

That’s the next stage of the journey for the smarter social and digital PR agencies and their clients. Here are a few predictions for the year ahead:

Increased use of paid media by PR firms

We are still committed to the idea that content should be social by design and that earned coverage is the key to achieving shares and likes. But we are now fusing that with programmatic buying designed to prime the pump and get our content seen by and engaged with a high number of people fast. And we will continue to do so in 2016.

We have hired media planners and buyers to help this and are using technologies like Rocket Fuel and Fetch. Our own social-first analytics allow us to track in real time the social success of the content we are amplifying and turn up or down the media buy accordingly. We try to keep pure media spend as low as possible for each piece of content to trigger a scaled social effect, which is usually very efficient for our clients.

Media planning and buying are new skills to firms that came from PR, but then so was planning, creative and production a few years ago. But we have learned that no legacy is often a good thing for building capability that works for publishers and platforms as they are now.

So add PR agencies to the battlefield contenders for the media budget (or part of it anyway) in 2016 and give some thought to the attraction of our approach as the click fraud scandal gathers momentum and possibly gets the oxygen of a Congressional hearing in the US with all that means for established models and established players.

Social customer service goes mainstream

Social customer service will be substantially bigger next year. Once it was only early adopters that harried brands online to resolve (real or imagined) customer service issues, but we are now seeing this behaviour go mainstream. Managing that whole process with customer service and social teams is huge and vital if your customer consideration process is affected by reviews and feedback, and most are now.

Because of this, we think brands will need to be able to better protect as well as just promote themselves next year. It’s no good publishing your gorgeous content into a firestorm of haters fuelled by a poor service experience. That is a whole new consideration set for many brands and a big service offering for PR agencies.

We are giving a lot of thought as to what increased personalisation and fragmentation means for our clients. According to Pew, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of Facebook users and the same share of Twitter users get news from these social media sites. This is up substantially from 2013 and mobile is driving this. News is now filtered through the lens of our friends. It’s not consumed in the same way as just a few years ago and we need to consider this.

Every day, with every click, consumers are training the platforms on what they want to see and what they don’t want to see. Direct visits to traditional content sites are becoming rarer and will become rarer still next year. Now, some publishers are getting 80 per cent of their traffic from search and social networks. This is something that every brand and communicator needs to consider in 2016.

New influencers

2016 will also be the year of the video influencer, or ‘YouTuber’ as my son calls them. The reach and the power they have with some audiences like gamers, pet owners (I kid you not) and sports fans is huge. The big ones are professionalising fast with agents, rate cards and all that goes with that, but even with this, the opportunity to co-create content with established intermediaries with credibility to your audience is a huge opportunity.

And finally, Manchester City will win the English Premier League.

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