With the emergence of advertising that one can skip, block or opt out of, public relations, which has always been a part of the marketing mix, can now take more than a supporting role. In fact, it may even be able to take center stage.
That’s the argument posed by author Lindsey Stein in an article for AdAge.com titled, “How Public Relations Is Earning Its Place in 2016.” In it she says that public relations has often gone relatively unheralded and too often an afterthought in marketing, but not in this current environment.
One example she gives is something Coldwell Banker did at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas recently. Coldwell Banker deployed its internal PR team and New York PR firm CooperKatz & Co. to talk about how smart home tech will affect the selling and buying of residential real estate.
Their strategy was to craft a three-year plan that moves them beyond traditional public relations and into the digital age and with strategic partnerships. Coldwell Banker said that there is no better discipline in “today’s transformative and interactive marketing landscape.”
Stein writes that advertising may still be dominant, but that PR is rapidly rising.
“We are now spending more on PR, especially around our cause-marketing program on improving teen financial literacy, Dollars & Sense,” she quotes H&R Block Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Collins. “We’re also doing more PR around our partnership with the NBA and social media, for example.
She says that clients increasingly understand that marketing is multichannel, and that the digital and experiential spaces lend themselves to magnification by PR.
“If you have the idea at the center, all platforms are necessary to amplify that idea above and beyond paid media,” she quotes Harris Diamond, McCann Worldgroup chairman-CEO. “More and more CMOs are recognizing the power and importance of PR, and I’m seeing more practitioners in the field being involved in integrated campaigns and that’s dramatically accelerated PR’s pace.”
More important, said Diamond, the “idea can come from anywhere.”
At Chobani, where PR has always been a weapon to battle bigger-spending rivals, the discipline is becoming increasingly vital, according to Peter McGuinness, CMO for the Greek yogurt brand. The growing importance of PR is not only a Chobani development, he said, but a “macro-category trend” because of highly curious consumers and the increasing need to reach them with brand information.
Stein says that Edelman, the largest independent PR agency, is “getting not just a seat at the table, we’re getting half the table,” according to Jackie Cooper, global chair-creative strategy at the firm.
Where PR used to be tacked onto a campaign after the creative was finished, Edelman is now working with brands and advertising agencies from the very beginning.
Stein writes that rising fortunes for PR, however, don’t always mean agencies in other disciplines understand how to work with their PR partners.
It’s “not really traditionally understood by many,” said Claudia Strauss, CEO of Grey Activation & PR. That’s why her team trains all agency staffers, helping them figure out what will grasp attention outside of paid assets.
“We’re not buying eyeballs,” she said. “When you buy an ad, you’re guaranteeing eyeballs, but when you’re earning, you need to engineer the content for news — you don’t have a choice.”
Stein writes that PR agencies are waking up to the power they can yield beyond media relations.
“Marketers really look at how they get the biggest bang for their buck and making their work talkable certainly extends the reach,” she quotes Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i, who worked in communications earlier in her career.
While 360i is a digital marketing agency at its core, Hofstetter said that she frequently puts on her PR hat to come up with ideas for clients that consumers will care about and want to share.