What is PR? This question cropped up on a webinar last week, and it got me thinking.
Traditionally PR has been about managing public opinion;however the organization one represents defines their various publics. It starts with building awareness,and then through the deployment of messaging or experiences, the opinions are shaped. At that point, one can start measuring the ensuing actions of the audience, whether those outcomes are measured in terms of votes or purchases or some other behavior.
At its core, PR today hasn’t changed – it’s still about influencing opinion and behavior. However, the mechanisms for building awareness and influencing opinions have changed dramatically.
So as I think about what PR is today, I find my answer is multifaceted.
PR is mutable. It’s changing and changing again, and then yet again. The tactics have to keep pace with the audience, and audiences are fragmenting and coming together again on a variety of digital channels. It’s imperative that PR pros understand and embrace the channels where their audiences live.
PR is measurable. It’s time to bury vague numbers like ad equivalency values and impressions, and start quantifying the top line impact of PR. This means measuring outcomes, not output. The good news is that digital channels and media are spectacularly measurable. Awareness can be gauged by volumes of conversation sparked by the content we produce and the media we earn. Ensuing interaction can be tracked with social data and web site referral information. Outcomes can be counted and correlated directly to PR activities.
PR is multifaceted. The conversations we spark and content we publish can earn media, generate social proof and influence search rank. The results of these outcomes are larger, better qualified and well engaged audiences. Influentials can be found anywhere – in discussion groups, curating social content, authoring blogs, hanging out on forums and (of course) writing for media outlets. Developing messaging and content to target and serve the array of influencers and their respective audiences is the purview of today’s PR pro.
It’s multimedia, multi-channel, multi-platform. It’s difficult to win attention for a message without a visual. Facebook gives a visibility edge to posts that include multiple visuals. Entire social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube (which is also the second largest search engine in the world) are built on visual content. In addition to garnering attention, good digital content can develop a long life span and continue to accrue audience long after it’s issued. PR pros need to be thinking visually, and building message and content strategies to reach audiences on different channels with the media mix that’s right for each.
PR is everywhere. Audiences see our brands and organizations through the internet lens. Online reviews, social interactions and third party blog posts roll up into reputation and are part of the PR equation. The reality is this: public relations isn’t just the domain of the communications department anymore. Integration across departments is crucial, as many efforts, such as social campaigns or market research, may be initiated in Marketing or a community team that may not be fully aware of the opportunity to earn additional media and social proof their content. PR needs to be aware of all outbound communications, not for purposes of message control but for message amplification.
So there’s my answer to the question, “What is PR?” I’m curious to know whether or not you agree. Please weigh in with a comment!
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and New School Press Release Tactics. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.