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What changed PR?

Melinda Varley | April 4, 2012

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“There’s more to PR than media relations,” one PR managing director recently told me. Of course I know this, but thought it was interesting she would tell me – to reiterate her point as if defending it.

Who would have thought? PR is not just about writing press releases and calling journalists about an “exciting, fantastical story for you today”.

She had reason to bring it up. PR has forever been perceived as a press release and or a media launch – a fancy soiree involving champagne, canapés and something ‘stunt-ish’ to draw attention to a particular product, feat or milestone.

When I think back to some of the PR launches I’ve been too, many fall into this category. Most instances I can’t even remember why I was there – I do remember some fantastic synchronised swimmers at the Haymarket hotel and a drunken performance by Lily Allen at some Soho bar.

Big and fancy and I enjoyed myself, but what was the point?

PR is moving (and for the most part, has moved) beyond these ‘one off experiences’ that are designed to impress journalists so much that they then go away and write about it. It’s no longer about showing people how ‘fancy’ you are by having a ‘do’ at some cool place in London.

It is though, still about the experience. However, the audience has changed – as has the medium.

Digital, as you already know, has changed the marketing industry for ever. And this medium has made it more important than ever to involve your consumers – future and present – in your activities. Because if you don’t, they’ll find a way to find you and it may not always work out in a desirable way.

Worse – people talk. Online, everywhere.

Secondly, the PR industry has taken the ‘media’ out of media launch and it’s all in the name of strategy.

Media still come to the party of course. But PR has reinvented itself as a strategic arm of their clients’ business to become a trusted advisor, a consultant…a strategic fixer-upperer.

From the recession – and further impending doom – we all learnt that marketing was the first head on the chopping block. The worst hit was PR. Why? Because the industry often saw PR as the ‘nice to have’, slice of the marketing pie.

These days, there are brands that rely on PR and PR only as their entire marketing strategy and there are PR accounts being won that are worth millions of pounds. Because, somehow in all the mess, PR made itself ruthlessly relevant in the very time of need. And it wasn’t anything to do with a launch or a press release.

PR is very much seen as an extension of the advertising campaign. It is lead by an entirely different strategy – whether that be about corporate profiling, perceptions, digital engagement, sponsorship or simply an interview on GMT.

PR is not and never was advertising. It is a focused effort to gain and maintain positive, continuing relationships with people that influence a client’s specific sphere of existence.

It is as valuable as any other marketing activity – if not more. And the new PR is here to stay.


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