2022 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for businesses who endured the pandemic and the economic and social-driven challenges of the past two years. Volatility still grips much of the world but, based on what we’re seeing, brands are getting back to business.
This is also true of communications programs. I expect PR to have a continued emphasis on authenticity. In equal measure, I believe we’ll also see a serious focus on performance.
Business leaders must realize that PR and communications programs are no longer just a marketing overlay. It’s a critical business function and driver. We believe 2022 will be a year for reassessing – and elevating – PR strategy as we enter this era of performance communications.
Untethering PR From Earned Media
There is still such an outdated perception of PR. Despite all the lip service around delivering “the right message to the right people at the right time,” there’s an association that PR equals earned media — and only earned media — maybe with some awards wins, speaking engagements and analyst efforts thrown in. But this is no longer true. In fact, even though we will be the first to tell you that PR can be an amazing vehicle, we might also be the first to tell you earned media isn’t the right channel at all.
Getting a story on the top of the fold of the WSJ or NYT might be the solution, but not always. And the volume of earned coverage is certainly not the best KPI for a program. There are many other places to reach people and we believe that when it comes to performance, finding the right medium for the message is one of the most critical parts of a PR program. Otherwise, the message will fall flat, or worse, never even see the light of day.
Getting PR To Perform by Diversifying Its Application
PR will evolve when PR leaders begin asking the right questions and then creating a strategy versus blindly pursuing earned media in response to that ask. By the way, 90% of our prospects tell us they need earned media, but that isn’t always true.
There are a few key questions communicators and companies should ask when outlining the direction for their PR strategy:
• What’s my goal? What are we trying to communicate and what do we want that communication to do?
• Who’s my audience? Where are they?
• Is the story newsworthy? If it’s about your technology, it’s likely not these days. If it’s issues-based commentary rooted in your company’s actions or role in something impacting society, it is.
But just because a story or message isn’t well-suited to a top-tier news outlet doesn’t mean it’s not important or right for your audience. You just have to strategize another way to go about it – paid, social, video, affiliates, etc.
What PR Looks Like in 2022
One of the greatest opportunities we have in deriving performance out of PR is embracing an integrated and cross-functional mindset. PR will offer a true channels approach — a purposeful message, purposefully delivered. Sometimes it will take shape as earned media thought leadership. But it might also manifest as a social media contest, affiliate marketing, paid content, or even putting paid dollars behind a niche trade article to amplify it with the right audiences.
For proof, just look at publishers. Research shows they’re diversifying their channels and content, putting more resources into podcasts and digital audio, e-newsletters and video — especially short-form. A fully realized PR program needs to do the same. There is no reason PR stories traditionally pitched to reporters shouldn’t be manifested in these channels too. Consider the outdated press release distribution. Americans ages 18 to 29 say the most common digital way they get news is social media. Why isn’t PR leaning on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube channels for these “announcements?”
We need to evolve beyond the traditional way of thinking and change the mindset about what PR is and what it can do for a company. The old adage, “the medium is the message,” no longer fits today’s communications. It’s ultimately up to the audience — what they want to consume and how. As we look to return to “business as usual” in 2022, successful communications plans that deliver meaningful outcomes will be those that focus on telling stories in the right channels.
Rick is a dynamic, forward-thinking leader whose passion, creativity, adaptability and empowering approach have consistently inspired those around him to raise their game. Widely respected as an industry pioneer and thought leader, he has deep expertise in brand development, integrated marketing communications, all facets of public relations, digital strategy, social business, online advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing. Rick is an executive vice president at Padilla, leading its Channels and Digital strategy practices, and the managing partner for SHIFT Communications, a division of Padilla.