Message of digital media's power simply can't be repeated enough

Public relations pros will often say that the key to making a message resonate with a target audience is reinforcement and repetition. And even when the PR industry is the designated audience, it appears that some messages are worth repeating.

Public relations pros will often say that the key to making a message resonate with a target audience is reinforcement and repetition. And even when the PR industry is the designated audience, it appears that some messages are worth repeating.

This year's PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey reveals some issues that repeatedly come up in the industry. The major finding was just how powerful a tool digital media has become for marketers. More than 75% of respondents said they anticipated spending for online and new media initiatives to increase in the coming year. And even as some companies face the possibility of having to cut spending in some areas, they will reduce budgets in all other disciplines - advertising, PR, point of sale, and direct marketing - before digital.

This shows that it's more important than ever for PR firms to not only develop digital prowess, but to actively promote those capabilities to their clients. It's something that PR pros have been talking about for the past few years, but is it a message that's sticking with its intended audience?

The survey shows PR firms are still not the first or even second consideration to execute a new media or CGM (consumer-generated media) campaign. Many PR pros will say this is absurd because PR firms have a history of managing relationships, protecting reputation, and developing content - all things that are integral in the digital space. But are they making this argument to their clients? Undoubtedly, agencies are touting their digital capabilities in new business pitches, but perhaps the argument needs to be changed. PR firms should explain to clients not only why they can handle a digital campaign, but also why they are the better choice over ad agencies and even digital specialists.

Another recurring theme the survey finds is the industry's continuing struggle with measurement. Of the respondents that said they would cut PR budgets if forced to do so by economic conditions, the overwhelming reason was because they couldn't measure PR or it didn't provide ROI. In a column earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of measurement - especially during a recession - but perhaps it is a message that needs to be reinforced.

Agencies complain that clients aren't willing to spend the 5% to 10% of a program budget necessary for measurement. But those firms should be setting an example for their clients - especially at a time when proving ROI is more critical than ever. One agency CEO recently told me he was considering making measurement an overhead cost for the agency, likening it to professional training - a cost that isn't passed on to clients. Perhaps that is a first step.

But even more important is for agencies to stick to their messaging: measurement is an important part of a PR program and it has to go beyond media clips to prove ROI.

Time and time again, the industry has heard the information it needs to be successful in this new age of communications. One has to wonder how much repetition is necessary before it actually sticks.

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