Wow, the future of PR is so exciting. Exciting, but confusing. Really confusing. In fact, perhaps PR's future is a lot more than the activities we currently think of as 'PR'.
The world is changing - digital and social media, and the increasing influence of owned media, demand a fast and agile response from agencies and clients. Companies and individuals that seize the opportunity will deliver a more exciting, rewarding and effective campaign. This opportunity goes far beyond an evolution of press releases into social media releases: what matters is making the damn things interesting to potential customers.
Clients want three things: insight, creativity and results that have measurable commercial impact. These key requirements - insight, creativity and commercial results - will have a huge impact on PR over the next few years.
Without insight, agencies produce campaigns that might at first glance look appealing, but that deliver fluffy, ineffectual results. Insight goes far beyond just understanding a company's products: agencies must have insight into how individuals are influenced to select one product or another. In the b2b space, this means understanding many different individuals who all have an impact on product selection.
Market insight is so crucial that it will drive agencies to conduct high-quality research to truly understand customers and markets. At Napier, we built a research practice in partnership with the local university. The results are the foundation for campaigns based upon knowledge, rather than guesswork and supposition.
Getting insight means working with data. We run campaigns where the first instinct is to open up Google analytics, as well as working closely with clients to help them nurture the leads that our campaigns generate, and identify the many different comms touchpoints that turn a member of the target audience into a customer.
Perhaps the biggest mistake is thinking insight means pages of statistics: agencies must understand and interpret, explaining how data shows that a campaign is moving the client towards achieving its commercial goals.
Creativity is mandatory for anyone in PR. Recently, however, advertising agencies have delivered the most creative campaigns. Many of these go well beyond 'advertising'. PR professionals must stop worrying about what is PR, and what isn't, and focus on delivering creative concepts that can be used across the marketing mix.
Social media are getting all the attention, but the real trend is the move from a broadcast model for the consumption of news and information to 'personal media'. Increasingly, it's the quality and creativity of your content that will get it to your audience, rather than the use of a particularly loud traditional broadcast channel. The audience will demand the content in the format they want: campaigns will use a range of media, from white papers and videos to tweets and blogs.
Clients want results that matter to the bottom line. They have one question: tell me how your activities have driven my commercial success. Metrics such as customers acquired, sales, market share and profit are the only ones that will make people take notice.
A focus on results will change the relationship between agencies and clients. Agencies should not shy away from payment by results: the more accurately you can tie a client's commercial success to the agency, the better.
The need for insight, the demand for creativity and the focus on meaningful commercial results will drive the future of PR. If the industry responds, PR will be an increasingly important part of every organisation's strategy.
Views in brief
Digital comms - specialist resource or embedded throughout the agency?
Digital expertise is essential for everyone working at Napier. Anyone without these skills won't survive in b2b tech PR. While some projects will call upon specialist expertise, agencies should have digital comms embedded.
With integrated agency working now becoming commonplace, what have you learned about how these teams can operate most effectively?
We're an integrated agency, so we have a great understanding of other marketing disciplines. Our knowledge and experience comes into its own when we work with other agencies, and means we often lead multi-agency campaigns.
Mike Maynard is MD at Napier Partnership