Most of us would have read by now how the public relations industry has a PR problem. We have failed to market ourselves, or even properly explain what we really do. Case in point, I have been a PR practitioner for more than 15 years and my dad still thinks I write copy for ads. And when it comes to budget crunch time, PR and marketing are often amongst the first few departments to get their budgets cut.
This problem is exacerbated when The Straits Times, based on a survey of some 1,000 respondents, listed PR as one of the “non-essential” jobs during a pandemic. And while the “non-essential” artists managed to trump us by protesting the report with their clever “non-essential artist” Facebook frames, T-shirt designs, and memes, I am still waiting for my designers to do up one for us PR folks!
Then came the Singapore General Election where certain segments of voters were swooned over by the Workers’ Party’s slick online campaign and Jamus Lim’s “blank cheque” remarks on TV (and at the same time, feeling a tad bewildered about the East Coast Plan). Yet unbeknownst to many who are not in the communications industry, speeches by politicians, press statements and announcements by any organisation (including the timing of when certain videos or announcements are released) involve input from PR professionals at some point in time.
In fact, my peers, especially those working in or managing clients’ accounts in government bodies or the healthcare industry, are having some of the busiest times in their career due to the pandemic. And that is the nature of the PR industry – where we PR professionals contentedly do our work in the background and let our spokesperson shine in the limelight.
But no, that does not mean that we are okay with being relegated as “non-essential”, or as the last department in the company to be informed of any major plan after all decisions have been cast in stone. In today’s dynamic corporate landscape, business growth plans and marketing strategies are continually evolving and the most successful strategies include PR as a core component.
Here are three steps to ensure PR stays relevant in any marketing or business growth strategies:
#1 – Involve PR When Making Decisions
PR professionals should always be involved in any major decision-making process because there is only so much that can be tweaked after a plan has been decided upon and carried out.
At The Outsiders Co., we encourage our clients to bounce off their ideas or initiatives with us to ensure that the brand’s messaging is spot on. This ensures that the initiative reaches the brand’s target audience; the messaging resonates with them; and most importantly, our client’s investment pays off.
It is not uncommon for us to have several meetings and phone calls with our clients and their management team to discuss new ideas and campaigns in the initial phase. It is crucial that we approach and kick off new campaigns with the same set of objectives and KPIs. We highly recommend that all in-house PR and marketing teams do this with their management as it will reduce the frustration often faced by the teams when having to deal with a plan that has been decided without any PR input.
#2 – Adopt Research-Based Solutions
Gone are the days when the PR team would suggest a strategy based solely on the experience and opinions of the senior PR practitioners. As our marketing colleagues pepper their proposal decks with numbers and figures to support their plan, we need to do the same with target audience statistics and insights from reputable market researchers. With the wealth of research information available for every industry, every PR-led campaign must be backed by legitimate statistics to support any strategy.
Relevant research results by research companies are generally accessible at no cost, with more in-depth analyses available for a fee. A PR solution or campaign based on research ensures accurately targeting the issues and needs of the intended audience, and prevents wastage of advertising dollars.
Adopting research-based solutions will also bring PR beyond the usual press release dissemination and cookie-cutter publicity tactics that are often associated with the industry. PR should evolve as a viable solution to identify and engage issues that matter to their audience, build and sustain relationships with them, and manage crises better.
#3 – Measure Results with SMART Goals
While there is no single methodology to effectively measure the effectiveness of a PR campaign, PR practitioners continue to utilise the problematic Advertising Value (AVE) as the only single way to measure the campaign outcome. Understandably most clients do not want to pay extra (or in-house practitioners do not have the time) to conduct media content analysis, quantitative surveys, focus groups, vox pops, and market sentiments before and after the campaign, to see how much the needle has moved. It is therefore up to us to steer our clients or management into setting several goals or KPIs to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.
With clearly defined SMART goals set at the beginning of every campaign, the effectiveness of the campaign can then be presented in easily digestible charts and graphs – a language that can be understood by both PR professionals and non-PR management and clients. Backed by further research, we can then confidently give a better picture on the effectiveness of the campaign and suggest improvements to be made for the next round.
It is vital that serious PR professionals continue to push on by producing strategic PR solutions based on legitimate research so that we remain relevant and be included in essential management decision-making roles.
Now can I have my PR essential meme already?
Ikram Zainy who has more than 15 years of agency and in-house experience in communications heads the PR and Communications team at The Outsiders Co.
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