Public relations – due in part to its reputation as a “who you know” sector – is rarely name-checked as a strongly tech-enabled industry. PR (aka the “persuasion business”) is viewed by many as discipline where the right “spin” is more prioritised than the right software. But is that accurate?
Arguably, PR’s beginnings were more tech-driven than those of its sister disciplines advertising and marketing. The emergence of the wire services in the 1950s made mass dissemination of business news to the media possible, via its post-office news-release model, well before marketers and advertisers could enjoy such broad reach.
Yet whereas marketing and advertising have benefited from the rises of SaaS martech and adtech solutions (and associated data) to prove their ROI, PR has in many ways struggled to adapt to larger evolutions surrounding the shifts to email-first communication approaches and an online-first news environment.
In 2016, however, PR sits at an interesting influx point in a multi-industry digital evolution... an evolution in which better technology will shape the future of the sector, and in which PR-earned media outcomes can have a greater impact on business decision-making than many realise.
An Industry Slowdown Meets a Software Uptick
Global PR industry growth slowed to 5 per cent in 2015, marking a major downshift from the double-digit growth it experienced just two years prior. It’s easy to understand why businesses’ interest in PR is declining: The lines between marketing, PR, and digital media are getting so blurry that even leading PR stakeholders are unsure what to call themselves. A recent global survey found that only 27 per cent of agency leaders believe that by the year 2020 the term “public relations” will clearly and adequately describe their work.
Adding to the industry slowdown is the corporate world’s changing relationship with the newswires. Now that a reported 83 per cent of journalists use just 10 per cent of press releases they receive, global spend on wire news release distribution is on the decline (down 4.9 per cent in 2015). But spending is going up in one PR-focused sector, in particular: Software. Even amid declining PR budgets and decreased use of the wire services, spending on PR information and software went up 5.5 per cent in 2015 – reaching $2.9 billion USD.
The diverging dynamics show that in 2016 and beyond, PR needs to be a business of technologically powered proof – not just persuasion. All PR insights should be linked to a company's overall corporate objectives, and with the right tools and media strategies it shouldn't be difficult for the C-suite to see and assess the correlations between PR and concerns such as product sales, customer engagement, website traffic, and more. Thankfully, stronger solutions are finally rising up to help PR prove that value to the bottom line.
Thinking Beyond (and Away from) the Wire
While the wire was an important and powerful news-dissemination tool for many years, the changing landscape of media is transforming it into an increasingly antiquated solution. The filter-down approach to media engagement fostered by the wire – i.e., send news at broad scale; support it with media relations efforts – is simply less applicable today, now that even large companies need to conduct more one-to-one pitching and social/digital engagement to drive media interest.
Yet for decades, the majority of solutions serving the PR sector have been designed around a wire-first approach to public relations. (Even the largest tech vendor in the industry, Cision, recently doubled down its commitment to the wire its $841 million acquisition of PR Newswire, one of the top two legacy players in the space.)
But as PR firms and their clients shift toward a greater focus on using media relations to drive ROI and business outcomes, PR success will be driven more by the quality of coverage (and the outcomes of follow-on marketing efforts) than by the quantity of broad, wire-induced impressions – making it highly necessary for the PR industry to have more intelligent targeting and distribution tools to help firms give their clients a better understanding of results.
For companies large and small, measuring the ROI of their communications efforts requires more comprehensive resources (including accurate, granular contact databases – spanning both journalists, and social media influencers) and better media monitoring and analysis tools. As the vendors serving the industry consolidate, it will be those solutions providers who move away from the wire to focus on accuracy and relevance who will rise to the top.
Data Proves ROI… Period
In addition, the vast potential of media monitoring data needs to be tapped into by tech: Just like marketing automation and CRM data, media intelligence data can be a high-value tool for business intelligence and long-term decision making regarding product/market fit, customer engagement, market trends, and more.
But without the right pure-play PR toolset, agencies and comm teams have a harder time delivering that intelligence to the C-suite. Ultimately, ROI is the endgame for every PR customer – and as increasing software and PR spend shows, we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven shift in the space. And now is the perfect time for that shift, given the increasing issues, and declining value, seen in the advertising and marketing spaces.
How so? Only 52 per cent of companies planned to increase their marketing budgets in 2015 – an 11 per cent decrease from 2015. In addition, online advertising fraud now costs advertisers $8.2 billion per year, and now that the number of ad blocking users globally has reached 181 million, the estimated loss of global revenue due to blocked advertising during 2015 was reportedly $22 billion. (On the other hand, PR now generates conversion rates at 10 to 50 times that of advertising conversions.)
But it’s not just about conversions: businesses today, large and small, are focused on more than just revenue – they're aiming to disrupt their industries, seize new markets, and foster long-term change. Media monitoring and PR intelligence can be more than just analytics – it can be fuel for innovation and transformation.
In the post-wire era of PR, measurable, data-driven intelligence on the “persuasion business” will guide how companies engage with customers, grow their visibility, and build brand awareness and trust… making it high time for the tech-sector stakeholders to pay attention.
Chris Morrison, President, MediaMiser
Image source: ShutterstockMathias Rosenthal