In the era of brand story-telling, the PR industry is well suited to win the future of communications.
In my experience, PR professionals understand the strategic risks and priorities in front of brands. They work in an always-on environment, so they thrive under pressure. PR also realizes much better than traditional creative agencies that the future of marketing will demand a lot of high quality, sharable content. And to top it off, many of the very senior PR leaders have the ear of their client CMOs around the country.
To win the future, however, PR must augment these strengths social media technology. It’s not as if PR firms fail to understand the importance of following social coverage or harnessing social channels on a basic level. Edelman’s annual trust barometer survey confirms what we all already know: people don’t just want stories direct from brands—they value conversations and recommendations from friends, family and acquaintances.
At the same time, CMOs are aggressively moving ahead with technology that PR firms are shy to adopt. Indeed, Gartner analyst Lauren McLellan predicts that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on software than CIOs. CMOs need to solve marketing problems at scale and that usually means using software to enable more efficient solutions.
Thus, PRfirms that take the CMO’s cue and embrace technology have an opportunity to scale brand story-telling and stand out from competitors who are afraid to invest in social strategies. For PR professionals ready to innovate ahead of the industry, here’s where to begin.
1) Start Tracking More of What Matters
PR has always tracked press mentions and placements, but measuring quantitative value is notoriously difficult. For example, The New York Times circulates to more than 1.8 million readers daily, but how do youmeasure the ROI? How do you track the reach of an individual placement?
Social media is increasingly an area where PR firms can make a clear connection between earned media and the marketing outcomes that the client wants. Getting an article placed becomes an unmistakable win once it moves a KPI that the client cares about, like improved sentiment or preference, new customer referrals, social reach and engagement.
Use social analytics and social listening software to illuminate the value of traditional and social PR. The results will impress existing clients and give you something powerful to show potential clients.
2) Build Services from Technology
Between advocate marketing software, influencer platforms and social currency communities, there are now a growing number of solutions that can give yourclients a social edge by harnessing the networks, credibility and passion of fans, employees and thought leaders. There’s no reason why PR firms can’t capture that value.
Test these platforms and look at the value proposition for you and your client. If youcould help clients leverage customers and employees as story-tellers, for instance, could you sell that service on top of traditional PR? Could you raise the impact of traditional media placements by working with an advocate community to amplify the story?
View software as an opportunity to deliver value that clients would struggle to create on their own. Remember, many of these platforms can produce results while account managers are sleeping, which means they’re highly scalable and probably less work than you anticipate.
3) Share the Message
PR clients get groomed for interviews, press releases get polished relentlessly and when clients and the press botch the messaging, PR pros cringe. For years, PR had a lot of control over messaging. In the social media era that control is waning. However, PR can stillstart the conversation and set it in the right direction—particularly if they bring their client’s most loyal fans into the conversation.
Not unlike journalists, advocates, influencers and social fans also have to be hooked by a great story, which is why PR firms will have such an advantage when they take on social channels as aggressively as traditional media. However, unlike reporters who ignore or delete the overwhelming majority of pitches, fans give your clients the benefit of the doubt. After all, they’re fans because the brand has already improved their lives. Listen to these fans, engage them at scale, ask them to share your clients’ stories and show gratitude, but then let fans tell authentic, compelling stories of their own.
PR is well-positioned to be the trusted partner for the CMO as brands learn to tell their own story across the social web and to enable others to tell it as well. But the industry needs to embrace new technologies and new metrics that the new breed of innovative CMOs demand.
If you run a PR firm, hire people who can test, teach and track the value of new technology, and give them a budget for it. Become a source of guidance and a force of innovation for CMOs by offering services that harness social software. And finally, give your clients some tier one social media conversations to match their tier one placements.
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Greg Shove is CEO of San Francisco-based SocialChorus.