Digital Essays: Markettiers4dc - Only the fittest will survive

The PR industry must assert control of brand perception - or risk losing out to a new breed of 'digital agencies'.

Charles Darwin defined his theory of natural selection thus: 'In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.'

This is pertinent in the world of PR and marketing. In recent times, we have witnessed a huge growth in digital agencies claiming to provide fashionable, yet often intangible, 'digital offerings'.

If the PR industry is not alert to the broadcast opportunities presented by this changing landscape, it is in danger of losing out to this new breed. We are responsible for controlling brand perception and if we fail to take responsibility, then the burgeoning 'digital agencies' will march off with PR revenues.

In the digital world, the first challenge is to understand how end audiences engage with the platforms on offer.

How important are end audiences as the key influencers? The success of site forums such as TripAdvisor gives us a good idea. Research in the travel sector shows 90 per cent of respondents would trust an independent review site over a commercial brand's website.

Just under 40 per cent of people feel their decision on a holiday destination would be most influenced by an independent feature on a travel site such as tripadvisor.com. I would suggest the recent uptake in this area has led to us asking more questions about our travel destinations.

Clearly, content is still king - and the end consumer is driving the content. But why should the brand itself not be the 'user' that generates the content?

What is also interesting is that video is arguably even more powerful than a text review. Look at lonelyplanet.tv's user-generated footage. I would now expect any self-respecting hotel or resort to have a video tour on its website, or I would question what it has to hide.

It is also important to note Ofcom does not regulate the web, so we can talk directly to the audience. As long as we protect the editorial integrity of the medium, the PR industry - with its experts in editorial content placement - is best placed to take advantage of it.

So let us challenge traditional thinking and demonstrate the tangible benefits broadcast PR can offer not only via traditional output but also the web. There is no doubting the power of traditional broadcast. TV viewing figures may have fallen, but the huge growth in online viewing figures shows people aren't switching off; rather, they are consuming in a different environment.

How many of us have watched a video clip on a site? How many of us log on to bbc.co.uk for the news when we get to work rather than watching it at home before leaving the house? It is not always one or the other, but perhaps both, and with the launch of BBC iPlayer we can do one and the same.

While there is a migration, we must work with both traditional and online media to get the best results. A very visual recent example from a PR perspective of two brands working it differently were Northern Rock and Mattel.

During the perceived 'collapse' of Northern Rock, there was widespread panic and TV coverage of people lining up to withdraw their savings. As there appeared to be little communication emanating from Northern Rock, this allowed the media to dictate the agenda, causing fear and uncertainty to spiral into hysteria and creating self-fulfilling TV and press headlines.

In contrast, Mattel was forced to recall more than 20 million products due to safety concerns in August. As part of its comms strategy to avoid mass panic, Mattel produced a WebTV interview, with chairman and CEO Bob Eckert making an impassioned statement on behalf of the company. The video was posted on its website and picked up by news desks across the world. This personalised approach reassured customers all was under control and being handled with their best interests at heart.

The broadcast opportunities are there for PR and comms teams, if they are willing to embrace them. Traditional media still have a massive role to play in this evolving environment, by means of higher targeting and less wastage. Wouldn't you rather take control than allow circumstances to dictate to you?

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