By Darren Gilbert
As Ogilvy Cape Town PR strategist, Mike Wills says, “The PR business has changed rapidly in the past three months let alone in the past few years.” It’s not difficult to understand why he says this. With the spotlight now firmly on social media and how best to use it, everything that we once knew and understood has to be rethought.
Perhaps that is a little bit grandiose and melodramatic but there is some truth in it. As Wills points out, “social media demands have changed the [PR] business”. Clients, continues Wills, are now seeking PR amplification of campaigns and demand both reactive and pro-active media management of their brands across a multitude of platforms. It’s a point which could lead one to think that a completely new set of skills are needed to cope in such an environment. The temptation would be to say that a thought like this is correct. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
While social media has changed the business, the core traditional skills remain the same. It’s a point made by FoxPR owner and managing director, Kate Thompson-Duwe. “At the end of the day, traditional media is still what we are all about. As important as social media is, it’s not the be-all and end-all.” That is not to say that social media has not changed the way that those within the PR industry need to think about how they are to communicate a message. With the introduction of new channels, there has to be an adjustment. However, it’s not as dramatic a transformation as one would have initially envisaged.
Instead, as Thompson-Duwe continues, in order to survive in such an environment, one needs a different understanding. She adds – and this is something that Mike Wills agrees to as well – that those within PR need to find the balance between yesterday’s methods and tomorrow’s perspectives and demands. “It’s because your clients won’t always understand [social media],” she says. “If I speak to a client in their 40s or 50s, there is a different understanding of communication. You need the skill sets of the previous generation as well as [that of] the future generation.”
It’s getting this balance between the old and new right that will allow for the message to reach the right audience while also remaining relevant. So believes Atmosphere Communications account director, Rebecca Cronje who adds that you can’t expect one person to run it all. Thompson-Duwe agrees. “If youngsters took this on, there might be too much of a focus on social media. There should rather be a balance.” It’s also important because you need to keep the tradition and history of where PR comes from, she says. “As a PR agency, you need to remember that you are looking to put together a complete communication plan.”
That complete plan includes traditional, old school methods however much you fight against it. “There are guidelines,” says Thompson-Duwe. “These are the things that you need to know. Your clients might be asking you what they are doing on Facebook or Twitter but that is not a social media strategy. PR needs to be seen as a full wheel of communication that encompasses a lot more.” It comes down to the French proverb, and one that Lange 360 managing director, Ruth Golembo believes applies to the industry: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” As much as there are new channels available, it doesn’t mean that there needs to be a revolution within the PR industry.
It’s a little more subtle than that. As Cronje says, instead of a revolution, it should be viewed as an evolution of the industry. “Yes, people working within PR most definitely need to be agile. But it’s more of an evolution than say a quiet revolution.” The industry is evolving as the media landscape changes. And it has to. There is no other way for it to remain relevant and provide value to the audience. As Wills adds, its about “adaptability”. It’s about ensuring that you have the right skills in place, which will allow you to communicate effectively on behalf of your brand.
In order to get that right in tomorrow’s world, PR needs to remember to include yesterday’s methods.
What do you think? Is the PR industry going through a quiet revolution or an evolution?
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