Why PR practitioners must adopt marketing skills

Brand comms has entered a new era, one where budgets are now expected to work twice as hard.

Not only do programmes need to build awareness and change opinions but they also need to drive action, whether that be enquiries, engagement, web traffic or sales. They have to achieve both brand and business impact.

Purists used to say you couldn’t do both, that it would turn consumers off, but evidence suggests that things are changing.

In a world where purchases are only a click away, people expect to have the option to try and/or buy something at the beginning or end of a brand content experience. In fact some feel short-changed if they don’t.

Today’s consumers of digital content judge it on its entertainment or informational qualities more than on its provenance.

For PR practitioners this can only be good news. A campaign can start with an issue or insight being called out and finish with an opportunity for customers to engage directly with the brand and/or product.

Increasingly one sees brand campaign reports with metrics that span every step of the customer journey.

But given the scale of this opportunity, why aren’t more comms practitioners widening the scope of their programmes?

There are a number of reasons.

1) Too many businesses still operate in silos, meaning the marketing and comms people don’t know what each other are capable of doing.

2) There still isn’t enough investment in broader marketing skills, particularly digital skills, in comms functions and agencies so people fail to appreciate how their work can be repurposed for different marketing channels and platforms. Too often these are regarded as optional skills. 

3) Finally, it is often too difficult to gain access to the right data: the data analyst is in a different country or office; they’re too busy; or they simply don’t track the relevant data.  This problem, in turn, means that comms practitioners lack enough data to benchmark the success of their campaigns.

This window of opportunity won’t last forever. Other marketing disciplines are learning the comms skill-sets as fast as we’re learning theirs. We need to accept as an industry that we are in the marketing as well as the comms business.

So we need to learn more about insights and data, consumer behaviour, performance marketing and CRM, to name but four.

If the analysts are to be believed, we may be heading into another downturn. There’s no guarantee that traditional PR budgets will remain untouched this time, unlike last time, when there are so many more cost-effective techniques available to drive awareness and sales.

There is more than enough time for us to learn the skill-sets to create programmes that drive business and comms impact.

If we do so our industry should consolidate our position as the ‘go-to’ industry when brand marketing and comms spend is allocated. It’s time for the double whammy.

Giles Fraser is co-founder of Brands2Life

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