Back in the day, PR agencies only needed two things to succeed – be a better than average writer and have a rolodex (aka database) of media contacts. (A bottle of scotch in the top desk drawer was optional.) While both of those are still important today, the complexity that’s been created with the popularity of social media and an unquenchable desire for visual content has added multiple new demands on the PR agency of today that will be in play well into the foreseeable future.
Given these trends, here are seven capabilities (including a variation of the two already mentioned) for the PR agency of the near future:
- Data capture and analytics – In the past, the only data you had to be able to analyze was the number of hits. Today, with so much data available on campaigns, trends and audience behavior, there’s really no excuse for a PR agency to say they can’t measure ROI. Notice the point here is that it’s data analytics not just data collection. All of that data only becomes actionable once it’s analyzed and that means having someone available who’s skilled at doing so. That means not only having data analysts on board, but making sure they’re trained in PR and having established processes in place.
- Social media measurement – Unfortunately, many PR firms and practitioners have resorted to simplifying this the same way two or three generations before them did with counting placements as the sum total of how to measure results. Today, there’s a mistaken comfort level in counting likes and follows (quantity) over engagement and referrals (quality). Since the popularity of social media channels is rapidly shifting with generations, measurement will continue to be difficult. But if agencies don’t get in the habit of doing this now, other entities will be doing it for them – and owning it as a result. Facebook, Twitter and Google offer a variety of free analytical tools to give you at least enough data to understand basic levels of reach and performance.
- Community engagement – Reams of paper and terabytes of text have been created about the importance of this. PR agencies have actually gotten quite good at it, but it’s quickly becoming commoditized. It doesn’t have to if you’re truly engaged with online communities. Take this example related to Kellogg’s the cereal company known for Corn Flakes and Froot Loops. After Tim Burgess lead singer for the Charlatans tweeted how the phrase “Totes Amazeballs” sounded like a type of cereal, Kellogg’s created a limited edition Totes Amazeballs cereal and released it via social media. That’s called true engagement and all it took was paying attention.
- Crisis communication in the 24/7 age – PR and crisis management have gone together like butter on toast. What has changed is the 24/7 news cycle and the ability of trolls to turn what may seem like a small complaint into a near life-threatening situation. The solution is to be hyper-vigilant about how any element of a campaign could be misconstrued, and by being hyper-responsive when things go south. Gone are the days when there was time to consider a response. While a crisis plan has always been a necessity (though often ignored until a crisis presented itself), it’s even more important today. And every possible contingency and response needs to be included.
- SEO and SEM – While most PR agencies are at least familiar with SEO, agencies that specialize in SEO are probably more aware of PR. They see the benefit of securing coverage with a link and are probably more in tune with how to make the most of it. PR agencies must become more adept and aware of how SEO works, but also look at how SEM complements it. Just because there’s marketing in the term, doesn’t mean PR should walk away and leave it to other types of agencies to understand and adopt it.
- Writing Varied Content for Different Media – Because content has become so vital and yet there’s so much of it, the need for good content that stands out from the rest is even more important. What’s changed is that PR agencies must learn to write well, write visually, and write about a lot of different topics. That means knowing how to use video and pictures to tell the story in ways that the written word alone cannot. This flies in the face of how PR has been taught and practiced with a reliance on the written word that is almost sacrosanct. But considering the prevalence and desire for more and more video content, that dependence on the written word alone will have to be broken.
- Influencer Relations – Having access to key media and influencers is still important to PR. No other element within the entire marketing umbrella can lay claim to this or should. Until every consumer who wants to can influence a reporter, publisher, blogger or editor, PR will still be the primary conduit for conveying information to the media. The conundrum today is the continually blurring line between the media and influencers who require a similar level of attention and relationship building. That line is apt to become even further out-of-focus as reporters are forced to both publish and promote their work and media outlets hire social media icons to create content.
In a couple of years, this list could look different, but any PR agency that embraces these seven capabilities now will be well-positioned for what the near-term future may hold.