The evolution of PR to digital communications

Public relations is going through fundamental shifts that will change how we think about and utilize it forever.

Public relations is going through fundamental shifts that will change how we think about and utilize it forever. Simply put: PR just can't operate in a silo anymore.

Today's communications professionals must think much more broadly in two major ways: First, they must have multi-disciplinary skill sets. Essentially, they are now digital communications experts, because they have to be able to weave together traditional PR with social media, interactive, and even advertising. Second, they must think much more strategically about how these elements solve specific business problems – not just communications ones – requiring a greater understanding of business, leadership, and company operations by department. And they must do so while also thinking globally.

Turn and face the change
Before we can understand how to navigate these waters, we need to first understand how we got here. Information and daily life have gone online, primarily because of the Internet and advances in technology. And that means communicators have to learn the art of design thinking – and thinking more visually overall – when considering how their brands impact the world. Why? Because the written word and spoken word need graphics, pictures, and motion; a company's brand is affected by all the ways in which it is portrayed, expressed, and explained. Because of this, it's ill-advised to implement a PR program without considering, for example, a social media strategy, the impact of that program on a company's website, or its messaging and documents for partners and investors. What makes communications today “digital” is the delicate combination of PR with these interactive web capabilities and social media – all the channels by which a company now gets the word out about its brand. 

A path through the woods
Smart communications begins with identifying what a company's overarching business challenge is, followed by understanding what the preferred outcomes would be at the end of a successful campaign. Also critical to creating the right strategies and campaigns is an analysis of the company's assets and complications. Only after a comprehensive evaluation of all of these factors can we look at all the channels and communications elements available and combine them into campaigns that have a unifying personality and a theme. 

The key here is that these campaigns will, by default, be integrated. For example, a company faced with launching a product into a market can't implement a viral social campaign that drives people to a subpar web site; that would negate the success of its social efforts. Similarly, say that company chooses to also host special events in several markets, complete with a celebrity, in a thought leadership campaign seeded through traditional publicity pushes. That company might find that those pushes would be even more effective by requiring consumers to go to the company's Facebook page – meaning its social presence would need to be up to par as well.

One can therefore quickly see how each communications channel is more intertwined than ever before, and how the sequence of all these elements is so critical. Gone are the archaic days of using the press release as the single tool to get the word out. Gone are the days of the lone publicist in the department cranking out media alerts and the spray-and-pray distribution of news to reporters that don't care.

Digital communications: the next phase
This is the magic of digital communications: the combination of great storytelling through multiple channels that need to be conceived, created, and executed together. The creation of a brand and the solving of real business problems require PR professionals to think much more holistically and broadly about communications.

And that makes this an incredibly exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting time in our business. We must embrace the changes we need to make to evolve our industry. And we must adapt, or we will lose the precious seat at the table we have fought so long and hard to earn.

Sabrina Horn is founder, president, and CEO of Horn.

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