Public relations is evolving faster than an out-of-control science fiction character. Yet many PR companies in my experience are stuck in the past.
They still think of public relations as straight media relations with maybe a dollop of social media added, along with a sprinkling of branded content.
Don’t get me wrong. Media relations remains a viable part of public relations. But it’s just part of what the profession can do. Unfortunately, companies that don’t recognize that are missing a major opportunity.
"Today PR often encompasses everything from social media to content marketing and even native advertising in some cases," says Rebekah Iliff, chief strategy officer of AirPR, the PR marketplace and technology platform.
While once the stepchild to its more glamorous sibling advertising, PR today can in fact far surpass the performance of advertising thanks to its ability to turn more traffic into leads.
For example, AirPR's data show that PR generates conversion rates 10 to 50 times that of advertising conversions.
A recent Nielsen-inPowered study showed that earned media—which is just a fancy word for PR—is more effective than branded content at all stages of the purchase funnel.
This isn’t a prescription to overdose on PR. But PR, because of its third-party endorsements, adds built-in credibility. A mistake some companies make, however, is to think third-party validation means only the media and maybe a few celebrities.
"Many people just consider industry luminaries and the ‘rock stars’ when thinking about influencers," Sarah Skerik, vice president of strategic communications and content at PR Newswire, told me.
Skerik says she’s had better results by getting something shared on LinkedIn than by having it retweeted by big names on Twitter.
The challenge today for public relations is adjusting to the constant drum of news from social media and mobile. No longer are episodic, big budget launch campaigns the ticket to success. Instead, brands must widen the net and maintain an always-on presence. This means using a combination of third-party validation, along with branded content and social.
As Heidi Sullivan, senior vice president of digital content at PR software company Cision, told me, "There is no silver bullet today. Getting mentioned in a big daily newspaper doesn’t reach your entire audience."
At the same time that the role of public relations has morphed into a bigger job, technology is helping to transform PR into something you can measure.
No longer do companies have to rely solely on media placements as the only evidence of PR success; today armed with the right tools, they can understand the impact of PR on leads and ultimately sales.
Yet many companies in my experience would as soon measure their employees’ bathroom habits as they would their PR effectiveness.
"This is the one thing I see missing the majority of the time," Iliff told me. "A company says to a PR pro ‘we want to see our sales go up' but then gives them no access to how to actually make that happen."
Here are some ways companies can get more value from their PR and transform it into a true agent for growth:
By adding calls to action to PR materials you can get prospects to take a defined move, such as signing up for a demo or a blog, advises Iliff. When doing this, ensure your website makes it easy for a visitor to take the next step.
Don’t limit press releases to product announcements or executive changes. Instead use releases to promote branded content such as blog posts, webinars, infographics, white papers, and any useful information you produce, says Skerik.
Beyond press releases, think of other ways you can promote your work, including social media, email, content marketing, and even native advertising. That way you are much more likely to engage prospects.
Use Google analytics to track visits from PR materials and use your marketing team’s software like Marketo or Eloqua to identify the source of leads, Sullivan recommends. "Measurement can frequently be an afterthought in PR," says Sullivan, "but knowing how PR influences the bottom line is key to the future success of the entire profession."
Some companies of course are doing all of the above and more and hats off to them. Those who are stuck in the old world of public relations, however, will need to embrace the new PR model if they want to avoid becoming yesterday’s news.