The power of PR in a post-advertising world

PR has never been more strategically important than it is right now, says Golin's Paul Parton.

There’s a breed of insurgent, new-economy companies changing the way we live. Brands like Glossier, Warby Parker and Casper are promising to make us more beautiful, to see better and to sleep better. Others, like Uber, Airbnb and Venmo are redefining our consumer infrastructure.

The categories they compete in are wildly different. But they have several things in common. They are all digitally native. They use the power of technology to transform industries. They are vertically integrated, controlling their own distribution and often manufacturing.

And most have grown their brands without relying on traditional, paid advertising.

Jeff Bezos, chairman, CEO and president of Amazon has said, "Advertising is a tax you pay for a lack of innovation." And a new generation of leaders he inspired has taken those words to heart. They’re building great brands, doing it in new ways and are experiencing impactful results in return.

Through real-time social engagement, these brands use community management not just to chat with customers, but to inspire product development. They use corporate social responsibility thinking to embed brand purpose into their organizations — which studies have shown directly impacts purchasing decisions.

They use effective employee communications to empower their workforce. They highlight their philosophy and proudly tell their brand story through content marketing. They maintain a direct link to popular culture with expert media relations. And they create delightful customer moments through creative experiential marketing.

In short, these companies are relying on the earned, not paid disciplines to build their brands.  The very things PR experts excel at lie at the heart of their marketing models.

So what does that mean for us? Our skills are essential to their growth. And as an industry, we have never been more strategically important than we are right now.

What’s more, because we’re strategically important to these insurgent businesses, we are becoming more important to their established competitors. For the same reason Walmart bought Bonobos to study the best practices of their ecommerce platform, established brands are looking to the marketing models of their new-economy competitors to learn from them.

And what they see are brands being nourished and grown with earned-first thinking and earned-first ideas.

It’s imperative that, as an industry, we take this opportunity to align our strategic tools, processes and ambitions with our increasing strategic importance. We must apply the same, or higher, levels of strategic rigor to the earned disciplines as have been applied to the paid disciplines in the past.

This means creating new approaches to fully integrate channel planning across earned, owned, paid and shared media. It means embedding customer-journey-based goals into earned-media thinking and evaluating our activity against brand affinity, sales and advocacy — as well as awareness.

And ultimately, it means developing more inspiring and effective ideas that best compete for share of culture.

If we seize this opportunity now, we’ll redefine our own industry with brilliant earned-first thinking, underpinned with new tools, new models and real strategic rigor just like the new-economy companies who are redefining their categories with earned-first brands.

And in doing so, we’ll unleash the true power of PR in the post-advertising world we live in today.

Paul Parton is group chief strategy officer at Golin.

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