As the world of marketing continues along the digital evolution, some in-house marketers and many marketing agencies have, it seems, shifted their primary focus to digital marketing activities, and moved further away from traditional marketing activities. Some companies provide a mix of the two, aiming for an integrated marketing strategy, but unfortunately many of these are still extremely slanted to digital methodologies. Digital and integrated marketing activities are great if they accurately replace or, ideally, better those traditional ones. But what about the ones that don't?
Trust may be compromised
The move away from public relations, previously considered a core activity within the promotions component of the traditional marketing mix, has resulted in the demise of a fundamental factor required for market penetration or expansion - trust. Companies, generally, have chosen this route because of the perception that digital marketing can be more accurately targeted at a specific market segment, among other things, with measurable results, while public relations focuses on perception and targets a broader market with campaign results that are difficult to measure. (Of course they may not have realised, as yet, that trust begins with perception before it can be built upon.)
I'm sure we're not the only marketing company that has encountered clients that don't see value in generating press releases, creating relationships with relevant media, participating in industry exhibitions, forming close working relationships with their customers and utilising the various other tools and activities that make up the public relations umbrella. And this type of thinking, fellow marketers, may mark the beginning of a huge downward sales swing for them, especially in these times of economic instability.
There are many reasons given for neglecting public relations. Some of them are statements such as: “No one reads articles anymore - they are satisfied with short informative snippets.” “Digital communication has superceded human communication.” “Our budget is limited so we drive sales, not public perception.” And many more...
I hope it's not too much of a surprise for those who think this way to discover, as Tom Pick of Webbiquity points out, that “several basic old-school marketing channels remain highly effective.” i His research shows that 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles compared to adverts. (Bear in mind that many published articles in B2B publications arrive on the editor's desk as a well-researched appropriately written press release.) 77% of marketers are of the opinion that trade shows remain the top source for B2B lead generation and 82% say that they generate "high-quality leads". The two most trusted sources of media are print media at 64% and online versions of traditional print media (online PR) 68%. Blogs as a trust source came in at a paltry 21%.
The way a company handles its media relations, even within the digital era, has the capacity to influence public perception. Now a standard feature of most corporate websites is the press page.
According to Richard Bayston, press pages serve as a medium for inbound media relations where journalists look for information to supplement an article, or to find out more about your company. It can also be a great awareness page where your target market can read your press releases on your site. He concludes this point by saying: “The superb content contained in well-written press releases that get posted on your digital forums begin, quite simply, with conventional public relations generating well-researched, topical, newsworthy, qualitative press releases. Without those PR skills, you won't have a press page worth looking at.” ii
So, the point on generating content for press releases leads on to the role of content marketing. This can be defined as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and ultimately drive profitable customer action.
Does this sound familiar? It should. Isn't that part of public relations? Well, almost. The basic distinction between the two can be seen by content marketing's focus on a "clearly defined audience" while public relations focuses on reaching a wide audience. Of course there are other factors such as awareness, brand and credibility building for PR, while content marketing incorporates those and adds a sales-driven approach, among other factors.
Jean Spencer of Kapost sums up the mix between these two very nicely:
“PR reminds content teams to focus on the public. What stories are the most interesting? How are current events shaping our industry and where can we be involved in those trends? By working collaboratively, PR can bring fresh insights, creative angles, and a greater perspective of the public into content marketing production. PR's goal is to share a story that is so compelling that members of the media eagerly want to publish the story on their front page. If content marketers crafted equally powerful stories for owned media channels, consumers would eat it up. When it's all said and done, PR and content marketing really are working toward the same goals - increased brand awareness, educated audiences, increased thought leadership, better industry positioning, and customer loyalty, to name a few.” iii
Speaking of the broader public as a target market brings us to another public relations-managed activity - publicity. The publicity a company receives can shape public perception of that organisation. Publicity reaches a very wide target audience and has more credibility than advertising due to its objectivity. This credibility also plays an important role in acquiring potential customers' trust. Key here is the ability to generate good publicity, which is far removed from digital interactions with a specifically targeted market. It falls squarely within the realms of public relations and it has been proven that, regardless of the size of your business, to secure positive publicity means identifying your target market and developing a well-considered public relations campaign.
Publicity is not only generated by public relations, but can be the result of many other marketing tools, like advertising, for example. The question is, can these tools work alone in generating the type of publicity you hope to acquire? This question is answered nicely by Danijela Krstic of Kogrand PR Solutions: “Advertising is much more likely to succeed when prior PR activity has been done to create a general knowledge and understanding of the product or service being promoted. ...public relations can help the marketing strategy by communicating with the public and building trust around a brand or organisation prior to launching persuasive advertisements designed to sell.” So, when you consider the fact that PPC campaigns, landing pages and remarketing are all forms of advertising, her conclusion is especially pertinent to some of this article: “PR is not a form or a part of advertising. It is its own marketing tactic that can be applied across all parts of the marketing mix.” iv
Public relations remains a fundamental marketing activity, a powerful medium for building awareness, brand, brand credibility and ultimately trust. Companies neglecting public relations are hampering the true potential of their lead generation efforts.
Can you afford to be without public relations in your digital marketing strategy?
Andrew Smith is a copywriter at CubicICE. He has over 20 years of writing experience across public relations, journalism and marketing, covering the business-to-business and industrial sectors.
i Pick, T. (2015). 20 brilliant B2B marketing and digital business stats and facts
ii Bayston, R. (2017). What makes a great press page.
iii Spencer, J. (2014). The role of PR and content marketing in 2015
iv Krstic, D. (2017). The role of public relations in the marketing mix
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