PR is on the rise, and it’s fuelled by data, says Phillip Palmer, VP of Marketing at Access Intelligence…
PR has traditionally been seen as an unmeasurable – but definitely important – part of the marketing mix. Vague and often murky solutions have emerged to help PR teams prove the value of their work: from audience reach to the thankfully now largely defunct AVE (advertising value equivalent), which plucked a figure almost out of the air to tell marketers an earned nib in the Financial Times saved them £3million. Goals have tended to focus on prestige (get (+i) The Sunday Times!) over true audience analysis for the brand. This is anathema to today’s marketer, who has often stood in charge of the PR budget, but in many ways separate from the department.
But PR is changing: instead of focusing on gameable metrics like AVE, or vague goals like ‘buzz’, today the focus is squarely audience-first. PRs now work backwards to reach the right audience in the right way, and journalists, influencers or other key stakeholders are all ways of reaching that audience – if you can connect with the right ones.
The future of PR is through next-generation intelligence around whoever their key audience is and how to engage with them – as much as it is with marketing. As the disciplines converge in measurement and tactics, the value of PR will become easier to explain to a sceptical CMO; even if the goals and audience may still differ.
Convergence with marketing
PRs have the power, often underestimated, to raise awareness of the brand, via external parties which hold the authority, legitimacy and influence to relay information to a wider audience, while marketing is responsible for the customers’ and prospects’ path to purchase down the marketing funnel.
The convergence between the two disciplines seems therefore a natural next step for businesses to present a unified voice to external parties, as well as one that can have benefits internally too – ensuring that the entire marcomms team is working towards the same goals and the same audiences. In fact, this recent research found that 53 percent of global PR and marketing professionals believe these disciplines will be indistinguishable in five years, while 41 percent think that is already the case now.
One global brand has already taken a step towards this convergence: German luxury car-maker Mercedes-Benz has been merging its own marketing and communications functions internally with the aim to offer “consistent communications and holistic marketing across every consumer touchpoint”. Marcomms teams can then take full ownership and control over the brand storytelling – which marketers and PR’s distill to their different audiences and with a different purpose.
A next generation of data-fueled PRs
PR and marketing professionals need to take this convergence to the next level and transform the digital function of PR, to ultimately lead organisations and businesses towards optimisation.
The data that matters for PRs will vary from business to business. The data that once mattered, from media mentions to traffic driven by links in media coverage, as well as the reach and interactions on social media platforms, is becoming less important than audience data. PRs today can track relevant stakeholders (such as journalists) the same way marketers track an audience’s interests and insights, using a journalist’s social media activities, particularly which topics they engage with online, resulting in more tailored and well-aimed pitches. The same can apply to enhancing interactions with influencers, internal communication practices, investor relations and more.
Though challenging at first, data-led PR will be at the forefront of innovation for business models. Monitoring data, analysing it and acting upon it will bolster anticipation in an industry where the unpredictable can still dictate priorities, leaving the PR community facing delays, failed campaigns and low impact. While data can’t protect against a breaking news story it can certainly help to time campaigns more effectively against current trends and stakeholder interests.
Measuring the success of PR activity requires borrowing well-rounded techniques from marketing.
A key step is to align PR KPIs (ROI, reach, share of voice, public sentiment) with the marketing funnel, to showcase how they complete the top of the funnel and provide marketing with an engaged audience.
Customer-centricity and innovation
Measuring thoroughly and consistently is the best way to showcase knowledge of what matters to a client’s business and prove the impact PR can have. Having a consolidated approach to measurement in PR will therefore help businesses set in with key stakeholders.
The convergence between PR and marketing will put the customer front-and-centre of the marcomms objectives, whilst building greater resilience to PR campaigns as they tally with marketing-led campaigns.
PRs who embrace a data-led practice will be tomorrow’s marketing leaders – and every part of the business will finally understand what PRs have known all along: the true value of effective PR.
By Phillip Palmer
VP of Marketing