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PR is changing, but is your agency?

Date Posted: 10/11/2016 15:06:08
Posted By: Geometry PR

When I began my career in the PR profession almost 20 years ago, it was at a time when businesses were going through a fundamental change in the way they communicated with their customers. The change was a result of Microsoft’s Outlook arriving as part of the Office 97 suite. Not quite overnight, but very quickly during 1997/98 businesses began to move from using fax and post, to communicating everything they feasibly could by email. The main benefit for me was the ability to email a journalist with an image and a press release, thus avoiding the tedious process of labelling and sending photographic transparencies in the post. From the clients’ perspective, it was a huge cost cutting exercise and a faster way to get their company information into the marketplace.

There was a huge amount of calling to news desks in those days and the PR industry was obsessed with checking if journalists had read their press releases. Unsurprisingly, journalists generally loathed us for it. They were busy people at the time and they are increasingly busy, time poor and, unsurprisingly, not tolerant of listening to a PR ask them if they had read their press release among the 400 others they had received that day. It is an outdated practice that I thought was long gone, but reading a journalist’s blog on LinkedIn this week I was surprised to read that it’s apparently a practice still commonly in use!

Phoning the media can still be productive if you know your subject, your journo, and how to sell a story in a very quick and efficient manner. It is still the essence of building strong media relationships for your business. How you find and ‘talk’ to a journalist is so much more than knowing the best number to get them on and then wasting their time with small talk.

Running a PR campaign is so much more than getting your company name checked within a publication. The PR industry used to talk about reach and was notorious for saying ‘you can’t really measure PR’. For years clients were satisfied with how many people had read a publication and how many pieces of coverage they received. The industry talked about traditional print media and online as two distinctly different mediums and decried and devalued online coverage; telling clients nothing beats the kudos of on-the-page copy that they can put in a reception area. Looking back, it was cringeworthy. The industry was reluctant to accept how the media landscape was changing, and would continue to change with or without our blessing. And change it did… mostly for the better.

We live in an age where we are ‘always on’. We gather news in different ways and it’s not just the ‘young people’ who are doing it. 55 million of us in the UK are online, using smart phones, smart TVs, tablets, laptops, and desktops. We are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled everywhere we go, from our homes, shopping centres, restaurants, to our businesses, and now even our cars can be hotspots. We are all online and using social media to varying degrees and the media no longer works in a print media silo. They don’t present media benefits in terms of isolated readership figures anymore, instead they layer it with unique users. Reach is more sophisticated than an ABC1 age definition. Targeted campaigns are just that, and because they are, they consistently deliver. It is an exciting, new world where everything is measurable and when implemented in the right way can have a huge impact on how your grow your business.

So why is the PR industry still talking about PR using old terminology and techniques?

Perhaps it’s because for many the change will mean a complete u-turn in what they have said to their clients, and what they are now able to sell to them. And of course for many it will mean the learning of a new skillset. It can be hard to change your mind about something you have done for so long, but it shouldn’t be when there is so much evidence out there to build a strong case for changing a communications approach.

If your agency is still measuring PR in column inches and phoning journalists to ask if they have received a press release then may I suggest you take another look at your approach, because it sounds like they are working to an outdated model.