Digital technology has changed almost everything about modern life from the way we buy our stuff to how and where we work. You will never again use the yellow pages or even the once notorious 'little black book'. And of course, the practice of PR has not been immune to the digital revolution, in fact, one could argue that what PR professionals do today is a whole different practice than before. Social media and blogging have blurred the lines between earned, owned, and paid media, and conversations relevant to brands happen on more channels and more frequently than ever before.
There are some core fundamentals of PR that haven’t and will likely never change. Excellent storytelling, great relationships, and a strong brand identity have always been and will always be essential, but how they are put to use has been forever altered. Here are just some of the ways that best practices in PR have changed.
Media Contact List
Old Way: Ever since the dawn of public relations, PR professionals have recognized the importance of developing a list of media contacts to whom they can pitch stories. In the pre-internet era, this was fairly easy because the number of outlets was limited and journalists tended to stay in one place for a long time. It was a relatively small and consistent playing field, so your media list didn’t need a ton of attention once it was compiled.
Today: The modern media landscape is anything but small or consistent. The number of publishers has ballooned and bloggers and influencers are increasingly important. Most people don’t stay put for very long and new potential media contacts join the fray every day. Developing a media list is no longer a fire and forget enterprise. Fortunately, sophisticated software has been developed that can help modern PR teams keep track of who is writing about relevant topics. It can help you target just the right pitch with pertinent content for each person who might be in the position to share your brand’s messages.
Old Way: Before everything went digital, measuring the success and impact of PR was very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that many brands simply didn’t do it. PR was seen largely as a necessary cost, not as a revenue-generating function. Some brands that did want to assign a value to PR turned to something called Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE). This theory held that the value of earned media was equal to the cost of an advertisement that took up the same amount of space (usually measured in column inches).
Today: The new ability to track the behavior of people who read earned media has largely debunked the myth of AVE. We now know that earned media and advertising are not the same. The good news is that we no longer need the crutch of AVE to assign a value to PR. We can now measure outcomes like increased website traffic, better conversion rates, improved SEO rankings, and ultimately revenue. Today we can use the ROI of PR to justify additional investment.
Old Way: Even before the internet, executives still loved reports, so PR professionals dutifully created spreadsheets and beautiful slides to justify their existence. But because reporting on tangible results was so difficult, these reports consisted mainly of activity metrics. There were slides devoted to how many pitches went out, and how many press releases hit the wire. Earned media clippings were proudly presented along with the total readership of each publication.
Today: On a modern PR report, activity metrics have been replaced with outcome metrics. In addition, spreadsheets and PowerPoints are rapidly giving way to interactive PR reports that are generated right from the system that is used to monitor and analyze the PR landscape. Executives can get a real-time look into the impact of PR without any time wasted by the PR team.
Technology has changed the way we produce and consume information, so it makes sense that it has also changed the way that PR teams get their messages to the market and measure the results. Change is hard, but in the PR game, one must keep up with the times or go the way of the dinosaurs.