Technology: Learn digital skills - or risk losing budget to other disciplines

PROs should be creating online content and building applications in an effort to protect their territory, says Drew Benvie.

Digital and social media specialists in the industry have been talking recently of an elephant in the room. That is the notion that advertising, design and digital agencies are encroaching on PR turf and could potentially steal our work, flatten our revenues and take our budgets.

However, this battle is about much more than who gets what budget. It represents a fundamental shift in the kind of work we are able to do for our clients.

There has always been negotiation with our clients and battles with other PR firms and, of course, against other marketing investments. At events I have attended recently and in subsequent discussions played out on soapbox blogs, I have seen fellow professionals acting out of character, perhaps a little concerned about the new competitive force entering our room. But I am seeing an entirely different room - and it is PR professionals that are the elephants.

Since the web began as an outlet for journalism, the industry has looked to specialise in getting brands covered in that medium. The web has bred specialist PROs who create tailored campaigns and can also work independently of journalists, such as virally or through word of mouth. And so it follows that in recent years, with the advent of the social web and citizen media, PR has evolved further still.

We have an opportunity to develop the right skills in cutting-edge areas of digital comms around web 2.0, social media and word-of-mouth PR campaigns. These are not simply PR plans, budgets and concepts at play, but marketing too. It will help to broaden the industry's horizons and get PR a few more seats at the top table.

So now the grey area emerges between PR and digital media production. Some of us will learn these new skills ourselves. Some will buy in that expertise. But we are now seeing PR practitioners who cannot (and will never need to) write a feature for a magazine, or don't know which journalist to call at a newspaper for placing a story. But they can create digital content, build applications and make virals that are core to PR campaigns from strategy through to execution.

Such campaigns will be global and pervasive, not regional or by sector. They will be barely recognisable as PR to the traditionalists.

The blurred edges between digital media PR and other marketing disciplines will create new levels of healthy competition in our industry and theirs.

Drew Benvie is a director at Hotwire. He writes Drew B's Take on Tech PR (theblogconsultancy.typepad.com).

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