How can PR join the marketing mix?

A PR pros' story-telling mindset compliments the business ROI jargon of a marketer... so why is PR not always considered an intrinsic part of marketing?

Mark Yeow, content services manager, Text 100 Asia-Pacific

PR isn’t typically considered part of marketing – but it should be. As social and digital channels grow (often at traditional media’s expense), PR continues to (ironically) suffer a perception problem. Unlike marketing, it’s seen as unable to deliver the hard results and ROI that businesses need.

This perception is damaging for both PR and marketing. That’s because PR brings to the omni-channel table the single most important skill for building and sustaining brands: the ability to present stories that earn and maintain trust from audiences. Our goal is the same as marketers’ – to grow sales and market share of the brands we serve. We just do so by focusing on trust instead of the transaction. And in a world where consumers wield unprecedented power over brands thanks to social media and globalised marketplaces, trust is an increasingly valuable and rare commodity.

PR’s storytelling mindset has the potential to enrich all facets of marketing. And the marketer’s insights, channels, and expertise are all essential for the PR industry to both quantify its value and increase it. At Text100, we’ve started down this road by bringing on a range of new skills in our hires, partners, and suppliers that have almost nothing to do with media relations – not least through our merger in Asia with our sister company, marketing services agency Bite. But to truly bring PR to the CMO’s table, we as an industry need to rebrand ourselves with some big changes:

Learn the (business) language

The average day in a PR agency is peppered with jargon about clips, coverage, and (once in a while) the cringe-worthily outdated AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent). The trouble is, none of this means much to an executive who wants to grow sales, pipeline, and their annual bonus. We call ourselves communications experts, but we need to start treating business decision-makers as our audience. That means acknowledging that PR-lingo is going the way of Latin, and learning to describe results and rationale in terms businesspeople understand.

Marketers, on the other hand, have grown up fluent in the language of business ROI. They know how to discuss lead generation, conversion, and the sales funnel, as well as where and how their work makes an irreplaceable contribution. PR people need to learn this language and adapt it to their own areas of excellence, namely building the brand awareness, engagement, and trust that precede any successful sale or relationship. While this language can’t express everything we might want it to – such as the correlations between quantitative metrics and qualitative sentiment – it at least strikes at the problems which businesses and brands hire us to solve.

Extend the PR toolkit

Many PR professionals see their toolkit consisting of the press release, the feature pitch, and the media event (which, when you invite a blogger or two, miraculously becomes "influencer engagement"). This would be fine except that the direct audience for all these tactics – media outlets – is shrinking faster than China’s GDP. At the same time, social and digital communities – from LinkedIn groups to email subscriber databases – are continuing to grow in both influence and complexity. In order to keep getting its stories in front of audiences, PR needs to build and incorporate marketing skills into its strategies and campaigns.

This doesn’t mean we all have to become experts in everything from microsites to marketing automation. Nor does it mean we should discard our heritage in earned media, particularly the focus on storytelling which gives PR its unique value. But we do need to acknowledge that our traditional channels of influence are waning; and invest the time and effort in learning how to tell stories across all channels instead of just a few.

This is something that we’ve been focusing on strongly at Text100 with our merger with Bite; as well as a number of organic initiatives such as our Digital Hub in Kuala Lumpur, product development in new areas like social and influencer engagement, and several new hires focusing specifically on fields like content marketing, paid search, and email. These skills and approaches all have one thing in common, one that differentiates them from your average marketing campaign: they’re driven by a desire to tell stories that directly address what audiences want and need, including the channels they prefer.

Selling ourselves – with data.

Let’s say you’re talking about PR campaigns in business terms, and you’ve built the skills needed to tell engaging stories across any channel. The final challenge is proving to the business that it’s all worth it – which PR pros have typically wrestled with. After all, you can’t track the impact of coverage on sales. Or can you?

The PR industry needs to complement its focus on storytelling with an appreciation of marketing data. By tracking data and correlating it to different tactics in each campaign, PR pros will be increasingly confident in demonstrating the results of their work – as well as understanding how to make their stories more effective on an agile, iterative basis. While you can’t track who’s reading a weekend paper, you can track if advertising click-through rates or visits to a microsite went up after a feature was published. Maybe after that, you might start A/B-testing your press releases to see what messaging gets the most pick-up in which publications. Then you adjust and test this messaging in blogs, eDMs, and other direct-to-audience channels…and so on.

To demonstrate our true worth to businesses and brands, PR pros must embrace the skills and mindsets of today’s top marketers. Clear, compelling stories are more important than ever before for brands, and our history of media relations gives us an edge when understanding what’ll "stick" with audiences. But if we can’t tell our own story effectively – with the right language, skills, and data – both we and the marketers we partner with will suffer a slow demise. We’ll only stay relevant if we start practising what we’ve always preached.

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