While no sector has been immune from the downturn, PR has outperform-ed the market. However, more still needs to be done to educate clients about the value of PR.
PR is all about reputation. It is the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. It is used to gain trust and understanding between an organisation and its various publics - whether employees, customers, investors or the local community - or a combination of those stake-holder groups. But measuring the effectiveness of PR is less straight-forward.
Marketers ought to be switching their spend from advertising to PR. Don't get me wrong, advertising can be cost-effective. As the trade association for PR agencies, we often buy space.
In fact, we have got an advert for our free service, which helps organisations find a PR agency, in this supplement. But advertising is also a blunt instrument, compared with PR.
Big budgets too often get allocated to buying space for three reasons. First, audiences used to be far less fragmented; in 1969 there were just three TV channels in the UK, not 600.
Second, the product is controllable and tangible. You are guaranteed the deliverable you were expecting, so you just have to
hope your audience responds as expected.
Finally, evaluating it is relatively simple. You compare the cost of the ads with another metric, such as the rise in sales or enquiries.
PR may not come with the same certainty of outcome as advertising, but it complements more business areas.
Good PR doesn't just push messages to consumers - it interacts with stakeholders, engaging them in conversation and fostering meaningful, long-term relationships.
The media landscape has changed dramatically. Forty years ago, when the UK had only one commercial TV channel, the most effective way to get your message to the public was through a hand-ful of television and radio channels, newspapers and magazines.
It was almost impossible for the public to form groups or respond to these messages.
Yet the tremendous media fragmentation of the past 15 years isn't even the most dramatic change to which marketers need to adapt. The digital revolution has facilitated peer-to-peer communication, and accelerated the need for us to listen to a wider range of stakeholders and engage meaningfully with them.
Organisations that do not change to reflect the new media landscape will not remain on the map for long.
The rules of the game have not changed. Your reputation is still the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
The difference is that with the mass-adoption of the internet, the number of people saying things about you has changed, as has the ease with which they can say it and the number of people to whom they can say it.
The new environment should not be scary. The rules for PR are the same as they always have been - listen, engage and respond. Do not be tempted to engage, unless you can contribute something extra to the conversation - and don't try to control the group.
The internet also makes the evaluation of PR easier. We can easily monitor who is talking about us, what they are saying and what content is of interest to them.
We can integrate our online reputation with our customer services, our innovation team and even our sales department.
PR is a flexible tool. In the short term, it can drive traffic to websites, lift sales and enquiries,
or build reputation, in the same way as advertising.
But done well, PR does so much more. It creates advocates for your organisation, builds empathy and trust and will engage you with your audiences.
So how do you identify a reputable PR agency? Look for the Consultancy Management Standard. It has been adopted as the industry standard in 11 of the world's most advanced PR markets, and ensures that the agency is well-run and uses best- practice systems and structures.
Francis Ingham is director general of the PRCA.
Find out more about the PRCA here.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk