PR Training Thought Leadership

#PRin2016: PR is More Than Just a Workstream

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Editor’s note: Annually, we begin the year by featuring posts by industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations profession. Follow the series and join the discussion by using the hashtag #PRin2016.

We, PR professionals, have to stop thinking of ourselves as the “earned” bubble of the PESO model. If and when we do, we’ll realize that while we’ve been focused on writing press releases, pitching the media, and planning events, marketers from other disciplines are not only playing in the earned bubble too, they’re increasingly doing it better than we are.

We live in a world of integrated marketing whether we like it or not. Ad agencies are winning Cannes Lions for “PR campaigns” and PR agencies are winning for “ad campaigns.” We may be the only ones still drawing a line between PR and marketing and between paid and earned media.

This “us vs. them” attitude is the same argument we were having 20 years ago. Today’s consumer doesn’t care. And increasingly, clients don’t care either. As Kieran Donahue, VP of Marketing Americas at Hilton Worldwide said,

“The whole idea of PR versus marketing is crap. You are all connected.”

The things that make great brand marketing are the things that PR should have always been about – authenticity, newsworthiness, shareability, transparency, creativity. Think about the best marketing campaigns. They are filled with content that you seek out, that you watch willingly, and that you share with your friends. That’s the type of content that PR has always talked about. And as more and more people use ad blockers, DVRs and subscriptions to avoid interruptive advertising, PR thinking is finally showing real business dividends.

So while PR pros are sitting around arguing about how we should have a seat at the table, other disciplines have started doing PR work better than our own industry. That invitation to the table that we’re always waiting for? It’s not coming. Seats at the table go to the people with the best ideas, not the people in a particular box on the org chart. If we want a seat at the table, we have to earn it, and once we’re there, we have to be better guests.

We have to compete on the strength of our ideas, and that means changing how we think, how we talk, and how we present ourselves. We have to think of PR less as a workstream, as a functional specialty and start thinking of it as a mindset, as a unique perspective you can bring to marketing. I spoke about this topic at the PRSA International Conference in November. In my presentation, I shared five things PR pros have to start doing to improve the quality of those ideas.

  1. Get inspired. Stop reading PR-only articles and blog posts. Stop going to PR-only events. top talking to PR-only people. You’re not only allowed to get out of the PR bubble, it is necessary for your survival. Broaden your horizons and start checking out what other marketing disciplines are doing. Understand how they talk about themselves. How they present their ideas.
  2. Learn their language. Saying “I went into PR because I hate math” may be said jokingly, but every time it’s said, it sets our industry back. We may have different functional specialties, but we’re all business people with the same business goals. Learn about aided and unaided awareness, share points, RTBs, CTAs, CPMs, CTRs, and USPs.
  3. Think critically. Rarely is a business problem solved solely with PR. We have to stop and think with our business hat on more often. Let’s ask “is that really the problem we should be solving? Is that the real problem?”
  4. Own the big idea. We’re all tired of being asked to “PR this” or to “get coverage” for something. Why are we sitting and waiting for “the big idea?” What would happen if we were the ones coming up with the big idea? What would happen if we were driving this bus from the beginning instead of jumping on at the end? Do we even know what a “big idea” is? Instead of training our people to come up with big ideas, we train them to be smart and detail-oriented. We have to work harder to come up with our own “big ideas” – ideas that work across paid, earned, owned, and social. They have to impact the business in a profound way.
  5. Sell in the big idea. Coming up with ideas is easy. Getting them sold in to your boss, to your client, to the finance department – that’s the hard part. And unfortunately, that’s the part we don’t do well. Here’s one example of how PR is losing that battle. Leo Burnett and MSLGroup’s Always’ #LikeaGirl campaign was one of the most iconic campaigns of the past year. Not surprisingly, it was awarded the Cannes Grand Prix in PR this year. Here’s the submission video they created for Cannes, the “Oscars” of advertising and creativity:

Pretty inspiring, huh? I’ve got three daughters and that video got me thinking they’re going to change the world. What a great way to showcase that campaign. Note how it uses video and striking imagery to tell a story and inspire people. That’s what sells in big ideas, not complex slides and detailed bullets.

If you’re interested in checking my whole presentation, it’s available here. PR is what makes great brand marketing today, so shouldn’t we be the ones leading the charge?

About the author

Steve Radick

Steve Radick is VP, Director of Public Relations and Content Integration at Brunner. Previously, he led the PR team at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago and spent nine years at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. You can follow him on Twitter at @sradick.

4 Comments

  • Steve — Thank you for writing this. I like to say that quite often, the coveted “seat at the table” is neither a seat nor anywhere near a real or virtual table. Professionals in every industry–not only PR–need to bring their total selves as business thinkers and innovators to every encounter. No silos, no walls, no labels that create insecurity. It’s fine if anyone prefers to not do that. But if so, one should not be asking for more authority, respect, budget or other desired entitlements.

  • Steve, this is a fantastic post – nice job! Shaking off outdated tactics and embracing digital PR is incredibly important. Our industry is changing faster than ever before in its history, and we need to be nimble. Those who can’t will find themselves becoming media relations specialists whether they want to or not, cutting of their career path (and salary!) opportunities.

    We also need to do a much better job of growing our own creativity, matching it to business goals and ROI.

    • Thanks so much Carrie – this is an issue that I’ve been talking about ad nauseam for a while now. PR pros spend so much time trying to get people to talk their language instead of learning the business language.

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