Opinion: Integrating digital and PR is not just a case of sticking them together

More often than not, PR and digital are bolted onto one another with the expectation that it will magically work, but it doesn't really work like that, says MunYin Liu, digital media director at Text100 Hong Kong.

Mun Yin Liu
Mun Yin Liu

Adding digital work to existing campaigns can be a tricky process and a source of much frustration. Having a background that is skewed severely towards digital marketing and working on a daily basis with colleagues who are from more communications-based areas means that I’m in a great position to see how difficult it is to truly integrate things.

As such, it is vital to come up with some ways in which to help bring two approaches together in unison.

The process of integrating digital with existing comms work is more complicated than most people appreciate. It’s rare to find an experienced communications or PR team that has ready-made digital skills that can handle other channels.

A new team generally needs to be brought in, and that can complicate matters, as even the most detailed briefing can’t replicate solid experience on an account.

In short, the way in which new plans are executed is different. A digital team will have a mind-set that’s more along the lines of setting a foundation of a strategy that they know they will optimise. On the other hand, a PR or communications team requires very different detail, as they are more concerned with handling how different elements of a campaign feed off one another.

More often than not, communications or PR activity will only be measured and analysed at the end of the campaign, with little opportunity to pivot or change based on data as it is being executed.

Another contrast is the way in which both areas go about their business. Communications work needs to ensure that it remains focused on the big picture, aligning itself with all of the other moving parts.

Conversely, digital teams have so many data points and metrics that it’s easy to get stuck on them. The key here is to remember what’s impacting those metrics, rather than the metrics themselves.

Fundamental differences like this will always prove to be a stumbling block when bringing two teams together, and this is especially evident when ideas are put forth to the client. With that in mind, it is imperative for digital professionals to remember to be patient when explaining a new concept.

As the new voice in the room with new ideas and new approaches, it can be overwhelming for all involved. A key point to note is that things are often difficult to explain because they’re difficult to do, and this can be the root of the frustrations. Clients also need to understand that digital can’t just be stuck onto existing work to be effective, and so patience is required.

The successful integration of digital work can be managed through the following suggestions, covering both agency and client side perspectives:

1)     Clients need to be clear on what their objective is, and should not see the introduction of digital elements as a massive game changer, but rather as something progressive to help augment current activity.

2)     Clients also need to be realistic and understand that they cannot expect to see instant results. This is in spite of the fact that launching a digital campaign can be very quick, but achieving positive results often requires ongoing commitment and time.

3)     Agencies need to comprehend the impact and process that comes with launching a digital initiative before recommending a new strategy to the client. I’d argue that this requires project and campaign managers to be in absolute agreement on the right way to execute.

4)     Agencies also need to do better at fitting their new digital campaign ideas into existing strategies. An appreciation of the restrictions and limitations that are in place is paramount.

5)     Agencies introducing digital concepts must do better at providing something that better articulates the value of the work.

At Text100, we’ve been working through these ideas with our clients for more than five years. We approach the situation as objectively as possible, and are finding it extremely helpful to determine our respective levels of understanding.

We also make sure that additional work is positioned in a way that can be explained logically and progress can be tracked with transparency. It’s vital that we remain honed in working towards whatever is best for the client as we navigate the constantly changing digital landscape.

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