Public Relations in an Age of Rapid Technological Changes

Businesses executives the world over have come to recognise that Public Relations is the in thing. They recognise the value of a good strategic PR campaign. We are talking about pro-active campaigns that have helped launch start-ups, magnified the value of the highly contested tech sector and dignified the sensitive financial and health sectors.

So it becomes important, especially for the Zimbabwean market, to get to grips with what the profession really is. This is so as for critical people in organisations, from boards to CEOs, marketers, finance to human resources executives to be rid of some misconceptions. These tend to reduce PR’s effectiveness in solving some of a business’s challenges.

Public Relations vs Marketing

Communicators have come to accept that public relations complements marketing, not replace it or any other way. Internecine war between the two has proven to be misdirected. One should not overshadow the other because of the two professions’ distinct nature.

“The two have clear and distinct roles to play. With a few exceptions, public relations is at best when it builds visibility and shapes perceptions over time. It is not set to drive demand, which is the work of marketers,” says a recent communications survey.

Marketing uses various forms of paid publicity and content to increase interest in a product or service, and drives sales. Decent PR programs, on the other hand, will act as back up for brand marketing campaigns through informing potential customers, changing perceptions and improving brand messaging.

“There is a greater coming together of PR and Marketing than ever before. Because of the social media explosion, the tactics available to a PR campaign have expanded exponentially. Whereas PR used to be considered “below the line” within a marketing budget and was loosely (and inaccurately) defined as “coverage you don’t pay for” in contrast to paid advertising, there’s now a significant grey area between PR and marketing,” the same survey observes.

Crenshaw Communications, renowned PR advisers say that what we call PR can include paid influencer marketing, content or inbound marketing, social content, and other varieties of paid creative services.

The Evolution of PR

PR has grown more specialised in recent times. The one-size-fits-all approach where PR plays ‘jack of all trades’ tends to lessen the impact of the profession when clients seek counsel. Agencies now even operate separate profit centres organized by sector, with tech, the health and wellness and financial services being the most noteworthy.

There has also been a trend towards a deeper specialist approach by PR function. For instance some agencies will choose to concentrate on strictly providing reputation management services. Others focus on media relations, content creation and marketing or just crisis management. Others, especially in the entertainment and sports industries, are more publicity oriented. They feed off influencer marketing and exist in that grey area between earned and paid media.

Any business seeking PR services should be aware of both vertical and horizontal specialist models and the ways in which they fit into their strategy or cater for their specific needs. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer practical. In as much as some agencies may claim to offer an omnibus of services, the demand for specific skills in now more common.

As long as business leaders learn to appreciate that PR is not the fire brigade, that it’s not about quick fixes, then they will appreciate its true value. PR people hate being summoned at the last moment to clean up the mess created by poor decision making. Good PR is strategic, taking some time to build and deserving a place at the decision making table.

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