27 April 2018 By Northern Lights
Over the last year, I have increasingly felt the traditional PR and comms industry is dying – I believe our sector must recognise this and help practitioners to adapt.
Ten years ago, we were at a similar cross-roads as social media invaded the PR space. Then, our industry lost out big time. Swathes of PR practitioners failed to spot the threat and took forever to start using it, let alone helping clients with it. We allowed the marketing agencies to pick up what should have been ours by right – content production is all about building relationships, writing insights and sharing tips and advice. Bread and butter to any PR professional.
Now we are seeing newspaper advertising revenues plummet – there is plenty of discussion about the future of newspapers and the media, but who is looking at the impact on our sector? Pick up any newspaper or trade magazine and they are a slither of what they used to be.
So what is the evidence of the death knell sounding? And what can we do about it?
PR and content marketing
I am in the process of launching a new business, Next-Up, which has evolved from Northern Lights. We spent months searching for the right website and marketing partner (during which time, I also felt website designers were stuck in a time warp) until we finally found the right inbound marketing agency we needed.
For the uninitiated, how does inbound marketing work? You produce compelling content that your audience are prepared to give their email for, in order to download guides and so on. From there you know what interests each individual visitor to your site and tailor what they see and what you email and engage with them on, depending on their interest. It is all about content. And who is producing this content? It is content and SEO writers, not PR professionals.
Last year, a conversation really hit home as to the changing nature of PR. I was having coffee with the chief executive of a cool, global drinks brand. In conversation he mentioned that he had sacked the two PR agencies he worked with and they now only worked with blogger influencers. As far as he was concerned, PR as most people know it, was dead. He said he didn’t get a return on investment for the money he spent on traditional PR and media relations.
Internal communications is the big opportunity
Apart from owning the content space, there are other market opportunities for our industry, yet we are not filling them.
I have been one of the CIPR’s trainers for five years and in that time watched a number of big changes in the type of delegates attending and their job roles/challenges.
I train in internal communications, change communications and strategic internal communications and have noticed these trends
At the same time, I have been helping a number of chief execs and leadership teams to understand comms and lead the process in their businesses. While they sort of believe in it, in principle, it is extremely hard to get the whole leadership team on board and even harder for leaders to do it well. They buy into the theory, but then start doing ‘comms things’ just when they have time. They see finance, operations, sales as the real business – comms is just nice to do when they can.
What is clear is that bosses in the UK are waking up to the importance of internal comms but struggling to understand it properly or implement it well. This should be a golden opportunity for the industry to fill. When I raised this in an industry meeting last year, the professional bodies looking at this said they had tried to make an MBA module on comms work and they couldn’t sell it.
I could have predicted this – business leaders are not going to go on an MBA module. We should be influencing and working with business leaders on this absolutely critical business issue. And we need a plan now.
Managing reputation – where is our leadership?
And finally we come to reputation. I have always struggled with PR being about managing reputation. This is the CIPR’s definition of PR
For me, PR has always been about communications – external and internal – to achieve an organisation’s goals.
But I agree, reputation is a critical factor.
This year we have seen just what the impact of reputation can be
The PR profession has tried to position itself as an authority on ethics, however a few codes and a bit of training are not going to change corporate culture or persuade business leaders to look at fair pay and honesty. We need the voices of our industry speaking out about the issues, what needs to be done and taking the lead in changing behaviours. We must be influencers – not simply producers of a few policies that I doubt any business leader has read or even knows exists.
It was encouraging to see our industry taking action last year when the PRCA threw out Bell Pottinger for bringing the industry into disrepute. Action was swift and it made global headlines. However, you could argue that this was an internal issue within the PR sector itself – we weren’t influencing and commenting on the issues of reputation management itself, just the behaviour of one PR company.
So to sum up, what do we need to do to refocus our industry and ensure we stay relevant and in business for decades to come?
Communications has never been more important. There are opportunities out there for good communicators and will be for decades to come. But we first need to have an honest debate about where the media is going, its impact on us and how we need to adapt to the new face of media.