Industry needs to make a better connection between digital, PR

By now, few in the PR industry still need to be convinced of the power of digital marketing. Yet for those companies still hesitant to make the leap, The 2008 PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey provides further proof. The survey, which polled 200 non-agency CEOs, shows that in the coming year, 67% of respondents plan to spend "much more" on digital marketing.

By now, few in the PR industry still need to be convinced of the power of digital marketing. Case studies from top companies and articles in PRWeek and other marketing trade publications have affirmed the crucial role digital can play in the marketing mix. Yet for those companies still hesitant to make the leap, The 2008 PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey provides further proof. The survey, which polled 200 non-agency CEOs, shows that in the coming year, 67% of respondents plan to spend “much more” on digital marketing.

In an economy that is, to put it mildly, struggling, this should be viewed as great news, right? Well, not so fast. While it is encouraging that CEOs are willing to make such an investment in digital marketing, this does not immediately translate into a positive for the PR industry. Digital marketing is such a broad term that it includes tasks that are not traditionally – nor should be – the purview of a PR agency. Web advertising, e-mail marketing, and SEO are all still likely best handled by agencies with that background.

PR professionals often state that it is in the area of social media that PR truly has the chance to shine. Given its experience in managing conversations, targeting influencers, and ceding control of messages to third parties (journalists), it would be ridiculous for any discipline but PR to handle such tasks. Outreach to blogs, creation of social networks, and Web videos are things that PR agencies do best. Yet, the survey shows that while many CEOs are personally involved in social media in some way, they have yet to be convinced of its value as a corporate communications tool.

According to the survey, while more than 75% of corporate CEOs have used social media in their personal lives, varying from “time to time” to “daily or almost daily,” only 18% of their companies have used social media to communicate with stakeholder groups; furthermore, only 30% are likely to use it in the next year.

As the recent presidential election shows, social media has the power to reach and mobilize a target audience to take action. PR professionals should take lessons learned there and translate them into actionable advice for their clients. Given the success that firms have had with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, one must wonder where the breakdown in communications comes, because the majority of CEOs aren't getting the message.

The study showed that 38% of CEOs plan to spend “much more” on PR. The PR industry must now connect the dots between PR and digital, not only for its clients in corporate communications, but for their clients' bosses in the C-suite. This is the chance for PR professionals to take the role to which they have so proudly ascended over the past few years: counselor. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted.

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