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Q&A: Why the Future of Digital PR Lies in Performance
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Q&A: Why the Future of Digital PR Lies in Performance

'Public Relations' is very much an out-of-date term for personnel who are now more involved across a business with content, marketing, brand and sales responsibilities than they are with a typical 'PR's' activities.

Whilst the ‘content is king’ bandwagon continues to shine through, PR is increasingly more accountable for engagement, measurement and now ROI, which is fairly new and exciting ground as its role develops.

The subject is being raised next week in a panel session of communications professionals at Performance Marketing Insights: Europe, so we looked to panellist John Brown, head of engagement at Hotwire, for some insight on why the industry is evolving so rapidly. 

John, this is the first time we’ve seen public relations as a core subject of PMI. Is it a case of your clients craving greater measurability?

John Brown: Absolutely. PR can no longer rely on a finger in the air approach. The industry is also shedding its security blanket of measuring irrelevant numbers, like the dreaded AVE. Measurement and importantly rich insights are what’s steering PR into the future.  

With so much more value placed on measurable business impact, do you feel this could hamper your own industry’s creativity?

JB: Not at all, it will enhance it. There will undoubtedly be casualties along the way, but frankly the industry needs to shed some fat when it comes to churning out generic campaigns and programmes that have little integration with the wider business objectives.

If data, insights and measurement form the foundations of the PR industry then we are going to be seeing more impactful, creative tactics deployed that can truly contribute to business success rather than massage the ego of a few executives.

What attributes make an all-round exceptional PR in the current landscape, and would you back the PRs of the 1990s to cut it?

JB: I'm tired of hearing the phrase an 'all-round PR’. This has been what’s got the industry into a rut in the past, where agencies and in-house teams insist on hiring people that can seemingly do everything, but are not exceptional at anything.

For the industry to progress it needs to hire and nurture talent outside of its comfort zone. We as PRs should be on the hunt for academic-minded researchers that can turn data into insight. We need to be looking out for media planners that are comfortable with paid for as well as earned media. The PR industry needs to add depth to its skills.

As a baseline, anyone expecting to enter the industry in a few years should have at least a foundation knowledge of analytics, measurement and business process. We can teach people how to write a press release, we can’t instil a thirst for uncovering the gems of information that can turn a run-of-the-mill campaign into an extraordinary one, because that desire has to come naturally.

Can people from the 90s cut it in this new world? Of course, provided they’re not clinging on to legacy practices. In fact, it will be immensely important for the old guard to get behind the new PR landscape in order to help develop this fresh and more exciting future PR has in front of it.

We’re really looking forward to seeing you on the ‘The Future of Digital PR panel’. Could you share a few of your ideas on what might lie ahead for the industry in the next year or so?

JB: Data and dollars. Those are the two things that the industry has to get comfortable with.

In terms of data, the PR industry needs to utilise tools and alter working practices to become data-led, rather than just data informed. Everything we do needs to be rooted in insight from the beginning through to measurement at the end. If we can’t prove it, we shouldn’t do it. Equally, it’s no longer going to be enough to ‘think’ that a particular strategy or tactic is the right one. We’ll need to know it is and our clients will expect to see the insight to support our suggested tactics and strategies.

The ‘dollars’ element of this is simple. We have to get over our fear of using budget to enhance campaigns through paid-for channels. That could be investing in research to inform a strategy rather than a press release. But importantly, it also means becoming more adept at using paid-for media to support earned and owned channels. This could be everything from sponsored content on Twitter through to integrating PPC with a media relations led programme.

Finally, what are you excited most about PMI: Europe 2015?

I’m looking forward to hearing from Seth Richardson of Rakuten Marketing on the topic of attribution, as it seems we’re not alone in the PR world when it comes to establishing what impact was made and who made it.

Anne Marie Schwab of RetailMeNot will provide an interesting take on consumer behaviour. Also I’m looking forward to Eric Weaver’s talk on social media’s crisis of faith.

Register now to be part of Europe's largest performance advertising conference touching down in Berlin in less than a week. Read up on the full Performance Marketing Insights: Europe 2015 agenda here.

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Mark  Jones

Mark Jones

Editorial Executive at PerformanceIN. Mark reports performance marketing news and manages PI's network of guest contributors.

Originally from Plymouth, Mark studied in Reading and London, eventually earning his Master's in Digital Journalism- before making his return to the West Country to join the PI team in Bristol.

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