Digital PR specialist at ImpressionView Author Profile
Digital technologies have ripped up the PR rule book - what does the future look like?
The digital revolution has changed practically every industry as we know it. Unsurprisingly the media is no exception; the news landscape is dramatically different now to how it was ten years ago.
Research from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows us social media today is used by 51% of online news consumers to find, discuss and share news content.
Furthermore, despite claims that communications is an industry safe from the AI takeover, robots are now writing your news in specific areas. The Associated Press publicly admitted that it automatically generates more than 12,000 stories annually about corporate earnings in the US.
Whatever your opinions are on this, as we observe the news and media industries transform, we have to consider the implications on industries that primarily deal with the press - such as PR.
Media veterans amongst us are no doubt aware of the evolution of the press landscape and will appreciate that these trends are not new. In many ways that’s why we’ve learnt to be so adaptable.
Despite this, it’s important to note that these changes show little sign of slowing and the knock-on effects are only becoming more pronounced across all marketing channels.
Press is becoming decentralised
Before we dive in, let’s firstly take a look at the implications that this has on the press itself, and then what this means for PRs. Within consumer press, we have to consider that a small selection of large authority publications once had complete autonomy over the news.
These few institutions could chose to publish any content they liked to shape the opinions that suited their agendas. Within this brave new digital world, anyone with access to a device can create content and put it in front of a global audience, hungry to consume something shareable and engaging.
I think it’s important to point out that this type of content doesn’t have any less of an agenda; don’t forget that media can never be truly impartial. All it means is that there’s now a platform for the plethora of opinions available to consume.
If you want to remain as unbiased as possible, I’d recommend reading forums, threads and comments on articles to ensure more exposure to various viewpoints. Naturally, absorbing fifteen different takes on one news piece will allow any individual to make up their mind more objectively based on a variety of sources.
The redistribution of content creation has several knock on effects. Number one; people generally have less faith in the media today. For the first time ever, consumers are questioning the legitimacy of the angles put across, as they’ve suddenly been made aware that they’ve come from someone who potentially has an agenda to fulfill.
Secondly, we’re witnessing a shift away from these previous monopolies of media power. Once reputable news outlets now no longer hold the same level of influence as people strive to gain news from more decentralised sources.
This evolution of the press evokes mixed viewpoints. Although objectivity often can be seen as a positive thing, if we put this into the mix with fake news and social media sensationalism; we’re left with nothing more than a confused consumer with a harmful distrust for the media.
A new format of news
Alongside this, the format of news is changing too. We’re witnessing a new generation of content which has emerged to suit a format that directly reflects the growth of social media and forums.
For example, sites such as Buzzfeed and the Indy100 present content in this listed alternative manner, stepping away from typically broadsheet and tabloid formats.
We can see why digital news organisations are moving towards this format that appeals to the expanding reach of smartphones, with an estimated 4.78 billion smartphone users globally by 2020.
You don’t need to look far to find people complaining that these new formats are lowering the quality of the news. It’s easy to understand this. A longstanding publication with established journalists upholds a level of modesty and history that perhaps a sensationalised digital version does not.
However, we shouldn’t always be quick to dismiss something new and unfamiliar; this modern format of news encapsulates a lot of the theory from marketing within them.
Social sites and the narratives used in this way are playing directly to our emotional needs to consume something remarkable, taboo or surprising, which is exactly what the basics of PR have always done. I think what we’re witnessing is an intelligent integration of principles taken from both news and marketing.
Traditional PR isn’t dead
As we adapt to suit the increasingly digital world, there’s claims that the traditional way of doing things in PR are long gone. Keep up or close up is a term that has been bandied around the PR landscape for a while now.
Traditionally, the value of a PR person resided within their rolodex of contacts, and relying on relationships with journalists was sufficient enough to ensure coverage. I’ve attended PR webinars and conferences recently that tell me the same is still true.
Despite this, I believe there’s now more opportunities than ever for brands to connect with their customers through an expanding range of digital devices and platforms. Content marketing and SEO are just some examples of this.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon traditional PR as a whole though, in fact I think we’re in danger of forgetting some of the outreach and proven techniques that have been used for decades if we’re not careful.
Exposure benefits of PR still remain invaluable, and increasingly so with the amount of content online. We often see brands optimising their content so that they rank high in search engine results for key product terms, but end up dismissing any form of brand promotion.
Trust and in turn, searches for your company name, is something that can only come from true awareness of your brand through an integrated PR approach that communicates the core values across a variety of channels.
So how does this affect the PR industry?
From a marketing and a PR perspective, there’s a common misconception that more content means less quality. I would always argue against this. Businesses now have to be more innovative than ever in the way they market themselves through PR; gone are the days where they could rely on publishing their own ‘news’ and hope that it's relevant to someone.
Instead, in digital PR we are having to come up with creative narratives which adeptly tap into consumer needs and desires. Not only this, but we’re having to integrate digital practises within them, measuring campaigns on online and search metrics such as referral traffic and conversions.
Good news then (if you can excuse the pun) for PR people; we’re just going to have to be more experimental both in our format, and our narratives, in order to be featured.
In this way, we’re witnessing an exciting time for the evolution of PR and marketing, as we move towards the most intelligent, integrated digital approach that the industry has ever seen.
Jess Hawkes is a digital PR specialist at Impression.
The Future Of PR In A Digital World