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Is there still room for traditional PR?4 min read

20 years ago, there would have been very few people, if any, who would have envisioned the multitude of different disciplines that make up the marketing ecosystem today. Programmatic Display, Paid Social, SEO, CRO, PPC (to name but a few) are all channels which have come into being within the past 20 years, fundamentally changing the ways in which brands approach the challenge of growing revenue.

The impact of these performance-driven disciplines on traditional disciplines has been discussed at length, particularly with regards to paid media. But in amongst all those channel acronyms – which you need a good 10 minutes to deconstruct for the benefit of your grandparents – there are two letters which have proven surprisingly resilient amidst all the change: PR.

When we compare worldwide Google Trends charts for ‘PR’ and ‘Content Marketing,’ it seems as though interest in the former has plateaued, perhaps even waned since 2010, while interest in the latter has been on a consistent upward surge over the same period:

Worldwide Google search trends for ‘PR,’ September 2004-present

Worldwide Google search trends for ‘Content Marketing,’ September 2004-present

With PR spend in Europe forecast to hit US $2.9 billion in 2018, it feels churlish to suggest that ‘PR is dead’ in much the same way as those who have been proclaiming the end of times for SEO since the first iterations of Panda and Penguin. Nevertheless, PR is undergoing something of an existential crisis, challenged by disruptive and often more cost-effective disciplines which are considered ‘performance’ channels, and needs to adapt in order to endure.

In this article, we’ll explore where it will need to innovate in order to secure its long-term future.

Proving value

It’s easier to understand why traditional media spend has dropped in the face of such steep innovation within paid media channels. The relatively recent ability to target people with surgical precision based on the weather in their location, their having visited a bricks & mortar store and even on their marital status, with clear associated CPA metrics is a clear value-add on top of traditional above-the-line mediums, which have more of a ‘spray and pray’ approach to attracting customers.

PR metrics have traditionally been based on estimated views of a placement, or on the spend you’d need to put down in order to secure that placement. Organic channels, such as PR and Content Marketing have always been difficult to reliably report on; however clients today are more focussed on hard and fast metrics (page views, assisted conversions), as well as on the impact of activity on other channels (prospecting for retargeting, SEO value) and these are areas that PR teams aren’t always that well versed in compared to Content Marketers, who tend to work in wider teams.

Earning the Digital PRefix

PR’s ability to gain coverage in printed media, TV and radio remains second to none. These mediums remain highly powerful, particularly within more niche industries, such as B2B, or within industries where the consideration phase is a long one, such as interiors. Digital is ignored at one’s own peril, however.

While a vast swathe of traditional PR agencies have now reinvented themselves as ‘Digital PR,’ they need to be better at bridging the analogue/digital divide, which leads us onto the next point…

Working cross-channel

Content Marketing is a broad discipline, which benefits all other channels: Native, Social, SEO and many more besides. In order to continue demanding such high budgets, PR will need to do more to benefit other channels, for instance by turning coverage into backlinks. This will, in turn, make it easier to prove value from the high budgets that PR often commands.

Having an international presence

The internet has dissolved borders, and for many companies their website is a portal through which revenue comes in from various markets, and out of which products and services are exported around the world. PR agencies are therefore more attractive if they have the local connections and understanding of cultural nuance required to speak to audiences in their native tongue, and also have the knowledge of what will go down well, and which publications are the most influential in a given niche beyond their client’s core market.

As the lines blur between PR and Content Marketing, PR would do well to become a more accountable channel, and one which doesn’t work in silo. Proving value is going to be key, as marketers get smarter and seek to innovate more in every area of digital. PR will need to innovate at the same pace, or it risks stagnating.

To find out more, contact us today.