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What’s next for PR? 20 top executives weigh in

On a rainy December day, 20 PR executives from some of the top companies in Amsterdam (Facebook, WeTransfer, Sony, Randstad, Bynder, The Next Web, Ace&Tate, among others) got together for breakfast.  An intimate table was set up in the hip VanMoof flagship store, amongst rows of the high tech luxury bikes.

Unlike PRLab’s large 200+ bi-monthly meetups open to anyone and everyone interested in PR, this invitation-only event was aimed at bringing together a smaller group of the top PR minds to discuss the state of PR and where the industry is heading.

While most people in this group did not know each other beforehand, you could see a fast camaraderie growing as people mingled while hanging up coats and pouring their first cups of coffee. Being 8 am, the breakfast meeting kicked off with a quick ginger shot toast to rev everyone up for the lightning fast exchange.

Having the opportunity to join as a fly on the wall reporter, I’m here to share with you some of the top discussions, insights and takeaways from the meetup:

PR and growth marketing are converging

Accountability has been the main issue in PR since the beginning. How do you actually measure and set goals for something, as important, yet intangible as awareness?

The truth is, growth hackers and PR professionals are now becoming important partners. As this relationship gets closer, we’ll need to open ourselves up to new ways of thinking.

It’s not just about growing your numbers, to be truly successful at growth marketing you have to adopt a growth-focused mindset. Workshops like the Growth Tribe Academy are teaching professionals in every area, including PR, how to adopt this way of thinking. Instead of being satisfied with using established methods that bring in results, the idea is to always be experimenting and A/B testing. This means tracking everything.

  • How many more leads have entered into the sales funnel as a result of your new PR campaign?
  • How much less are you spending on Facebook ads due to traffic coming in from activities like guest blogging?
  • Has your share of voice increased as a result of your recent press interview?

In PR, an industry in which creativity and innovation are so important, adopting a growth-focused mindset will be a game changer.

Are PR agencies still worth it?

Today, more and more companies are outsourcing PR to agencies. The problem is, it can be difficult to manage these relationships effectively. Everyone who attended the meeting seemed to have experienced the same frustrations. The trick is to really consider both what your needs are as the client and what the consultants’ needs are to carry out their work effectively.

First, consider what you want out of this relationship. Do you want an agency for their network or their creativity? Often for emerging startups, getting access to a well-established Rolodex can be the gateway to raising the profile of your company. For more well-known businesses, a creative partner that can identify stories which are too difficult to see from the inside is invaluable. Knowing what you want an agency for is the first step.

Communicate clearly what your expectations are and what success looks like for you. Establishing shared KPIs and common ground are essential. Consider this: are you paying for the work they’re doing or their results?

Invest time in helping your agency get to know your business better. Invite them to company trainings and introduce them to your products early. One company even invited their consultants to work in their stores for half a day.

Another alternative is, instead of working with a traditional PR agency, consider hiring freelance teams. At large PR firms, you never know if you’ll have a junior account manager handling your case or if you’ll be getting the expert oversight you’re paying for. Hiring individual freelancers mean you’ll know the level of expertise you’ll be getting and you’ll experience a more personalized service.

Find your influencers

An executive working for a major consumer brand explained how important influencer marketing has become in the last few years. Rather than added value, influencer endorsements are now a must-have. It’s a particularly effective strategy in the Netherlands where there’s an abundance of influencers – especially vloggers – who have a lot of exposure.

However, he conceded, managing these relationships also requires a lot of work. When you’re working with well-known influencers especially, they often expect you to be on hand with continuous and immediate comms. Much like working with agencies or freelancers, you need to invest time in getting them familiar with your product and brand.

The idea is to create long-term relationships with people who really embody your brand’s ethos and lifestyle, rather than one-off collaborations. This means that you really have to be highly selective with who you decide to build relationships with.

In the past, you had to manually check the reach and authenticity of each influencer you brought on board. The good news is, you now have tools that can help you find the influencers with the biggest reach and authority in a given niche. Some of these tools include Buzzsumo, Klear, HypeAuditor, Klout, Upfluence and Buzzstream.

Where is PR headed?

In the future, PR professionals will move away from standard press releases and move more towards storytelling. This role will be more focused on finding out what society wants from brands and relaying this internally.

Consider this: When you don’t have regular product updates, it can be difficult to catch a journalist’s attention. At that point, it becomes all about creating unique stories that differentiate your brand from others. Instead of approaching stories from the perspective of your product, look at the wider impact your product and company aim to have on society. Are you committed to bringing greater sustainability? To help people reach their fitness goals?

Even if thought leadership focused pieces may seem like a lot of work for little recognition, they will ultimately help you build stronger relationships with journalists who know they can go to you for stories that provide value, over sales.

Today, we’re even seeing brands take political stances. More than press releases, will political statements be the future of PR?

Here we heard a resounding: “absolutely!”

As one attendee added, “Consumers used to ask, ‘who are you?’ Now they’re asking, ‘what do you think?’”

But how do we make sure purpose-driven doesn’t simply become purpose washing?

Your purpose-driven campaigns need to be honest. Rather than following trends, tell stories that really fit your company’s mission and the wider impact it has on society. A clear example of the impact of purpose washing was Pepsi’s infamous ‘protest themed’ ad featuring model Kendal Jenner. With no real message or stance behind the ad, it instead greatly damaged the brand’s credibility.

This also means that when a brand does receive negative press for its activities – whether product related or internal – it’s important not to simply lay low and hope it blows over. CEOs and founders must instead address issues publicly and openly, sharing next steps and following up with results. Every organization can improve in some way, whether it’s on their sustainability track record or employee treatment. Being honest and taking responsibility for past mistakes is ultimately the best way to win back trust.
As the networking winded down people began jumping on their bikes to face another day of dreaming up the next big campaign and fighting fires. Just another day in the life of a PR. For more insider tips and stories check out PRLab’s blog and meet up page.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

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