Friday, 10 December 2010

The Changing PR Landscape

Whilst social media has been prominent for many, many years, especially for recreational use, most non-digital agencies would agree that the last 24 months have really seen it explode in the PR World. It has crept up the agenda for all of our clients here at Cirkle and social media is now present in virtually 90% of consumer facing projects, rather than the token 10% prior to that and, importantly, it is playing a crucial role in brand communication. PRs interviewing for new roles will undoubtably be asked about their social media knowledge, is it replacing the telephone for them?

We understand ourselves, as consumers, when we are considering a purchase or have heard about a product we like the sound of, the first place we head to is Google. We like third party reviews, we like deals, news, vouchers and price comparisons. We have become accustomed to ‘search engine editing’ and as a nation, we are moving away from traditional media and consuming news in bite-sized chunks; skimming over stories and filtering the information for our needs. We are bombarded by over 20,000 messages a day so lord knows we need to be picky. Therefore, it is important for big brands to make information available to their audience in this way, engage in two way dialogue and to have a personality. I love using the analogy, 'nobody wants to spend time with the party guest who only talks about themselves' (and that is hard lesson no.1 for most brands dipping their toe in the social media waters!).

When this all started happening, there was a scrum - who would own social media? The advertising agency said them (why not? they are cool), the design agency said them (they controlled the website after all), specialist digital agencies said it should be them (it's a completely different discipline, they argued) and we, the PR agency of course said us. Not because we saw it as a way to earn a quick buck - or to grow our shoes and bag fund as one client likes to suggest - but because it is all about COMMUNICATION and REPUTATION. The two key reasons that brands employ PR agencies.

I won't say it has been easy. At first, clients eyed the budgets attached to 'Twitter and Facebook' and 'Interactive Viral Campaign' with great suspicion - were they being ripped off? How can we measure the success? Oh and also...how big can they have their branding and can they have their mission statement and corporate messaging on there? (Hard lesson no.2, we need a completely different tone in this environment but the content still needs to be strategically aligned with the marketing objectives). But slowly and surely they have been seeing the return, seeing sales increase, seeing repeat visitors to our sites AND, perhaps the most joyful part for most brand managers - seeing their consumers embracing the campaigns and engaging with their brand. Great examples can be seen on www.typhooalong.co.uk and www.wewillwrapyou.co.uk.

It has been a massive education. On the proactive side of things, clients have needed to be convinced that 'subtle' works and that the interactive tactics are imperative when luring the consumer in. On the reactive side, they have needed to understand that the conversation is happening whether they are taking part or not. (I was the first to unleash a torrent of fury on Twitter and Facebook recently when I experienced some especially dreadful service from Dreams the bedstore! I am not over it because they seemingly didn't care). A crisis will now spread quicker than ever before. If a disgruntled consumer posts comments on your branded Twitter or Facebook, they sure as hell expect a response within 12 hours - even if it is the middle of the night on a Sunday - which is why brands need people who are up to speed on all of their business messaging surpervising these conversations. It opens up great opportunities for us PRs but it also makes that day to day 'housekeeping' far broader and much harder to contain.

Apps are also growing in popularity by the day, with even charities such as the Poppy Appeal embracing the new technology. Whilst we haven't directly created one for any of our clients yet, it is an area where our business clients are exploring - be it profit calculators for independent retailers or interactive category management tools. It really is touching all areas of our clients businesses right now and to not be keeping up would be career suicide.


There was once a time when PR was the cheaper alternative, when TV was God and when PROs were considered fluffy. Not anymore. Now we are strategically leading brands in a way we never got the opportunity to before the recession.


It is a very exciting time to be in the COMMUNICATION business.

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