As recent debates on the relevancy of traditional PR continue, are marketers missing the point? As the sector evolves and adapts, we asked our network of PR experts to share the latest trends, challenges, and tactics for a modernised PR strategy.

The idea that PR is 'dying a slow death' has been around for years. However, as PR agencies continue to thrive in 2023, it's becoming clearer by the day that it's not PR that's falling behind - it's our understanding.

PR plays the important role of developing top-of-mind awareness needed to take on competitors. At its heart, a good PR strategy earns a customer’s attention and makes favourable conditions for other strategies such as content, marketing, and social media to succeed.

As the rise of digital channels and more complex consumer behaviour changes the marketing industry as a whole, we reached out to a selection of our Network members to discover the trends and challenges in the world of PR, and what's needed for businesses to build an effective, modern PR strategy...

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PR in 2023: Changing Trends in PR Strategy

The emergence of social media over the last decade has changed the way we engage with societies and the world around us, and how businesses themselves operated and interacted with their customers. Companies were required to become much more mindful of their brand and public persona.

This is where today’s PR agencies come in. As the need for more consistent branding and public outreach grew along with the expanse of social networks, so too did the necessity of PR agencies.

We asked our agencies how they have seen the PR landscape change over the past five years.

Thinking globally, acting locally with your PR strategy

“We have progressed from managing media relations and events to owning the tone of voice and positioning of an organisation and placing purpose at the heart of our messaging.

Twenty years ago, we talked about the need for PR to be around the boardroom table.
Now, it has a designated seat as companies and organisations begin to understand the value of reputation. With the world getting smaller, reputation is now seen to be the thing that sets companies apart.

The old saying - think global, act local - has never been more important. The significance of operating locally or even hyper locally has grown considerably over the last few years and ensures that brands are able to genuinely resonate with people, not just in an area but right down to street level too.” – Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, CEO, Liquid

Elisabeth Lewis-Jones of Liquid discusses the importance of modern PR

Blurred lines between PR and 'Digital' marketing channels

“The rise of social and its significance to consumers’ lifestyles has only increased further, with the introduction of TikTok and the like. These new platforms are all such significant channels that need to be catered for in the comms plan. At Stir we very much believe in an integrated approach to working with influencers and content creators, so rather than having influencer programs working in silo we strive to incorporate them, to complement and amplify the overarching campaign.

From a PR standpoint, we really need to understand where consumers are naturally playing and take our messages and work into these playgrounds to capture their attention. More often than not, traditional PR is not going to be enough as brands are looking to attract a younger demographic.

PR only five years ago was still heavily obsessed with print coverage, that’s not to say print is no longer important but depending on your client you can guarantee some of its customers have never read a paper in their life. Therefore, what was traditionally considered earned coverage has blurred from print, broadcast and online into social. Viral Instagram meme accounts are the main source of news for lots of younger consumers, TikTok duets and multi-part videos has enabled a new generation to share and discuss news.

The impact of social channels on the news agenda has been so significant particularly within consumer PR.

As we transition into Web 3.0, the way we engage with the media will continue to change. The future generations are having their opinions and thoughts heard and so we can only expect the way they consume and influence the media will become more impactful. What was once a one-way pitch to have topics covered in the media, is very much now the consumer determining what’s hitting the news agenda.” – Polly Atherton, Managing Director, Stir

Adopting Digital PR and Communications as a Permanent Strategy

“The PR landscape has changed dramatically within the last five years, as the business shifted from embracing only traditional services to adopting digital communications as a permanent strategy.

Social media, content marketing, native advertising, SEO, and other forms of digital communication have grown in popularity due to their competitive edge that 'traditional' businesses cannot match singlehandedly.

Some agencies are rapidly embracing the advantages digital technology offers, as nowadays, distinguishing an online presence is essential in effectively spreading the brands awareness.” – David Clare, Head of PR, Fox Agency

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PR: Common Misconceptions

With PR operating in so many different silos, it can be easy for people to get the work of public relations confused. We asked our network members about some of the common misconceptions people have around PR in the new year.

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” 

“In the last year, more and more organisations have taken a strong stance on purpose, responsibility and ESG as consumers now favour brands that actively confront ethical and social issues.

Negative publicity in 2023 can have a considerable impact on reputation and has led to the development of crisis communications as a fundamental service. It just goes to show how much control consumers have!” – Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, Liquid

Polly Atherton of Stir discusses the importance of modern PR

You don't need PR in an integrated campaign for the get-go

“Not a new frustration or indeed unique to 2023, but it still surprises me that some brands still need educating on when to bring PR in the planning for integrated campaign activity.

Too often this can happen too late in the day, whereas in my view PR should be involved right from the get-go.

Why? Well, any good comms experts/PRs are at the forefront of what is inspiring and motivating consumers, across the media in all its guises. But more importantly, at our core, we’re the ones creating earned noise - so it’s much better if you can align on a creative platform that works for media and go from there.

Furthermore, we’re the brand guardians, so we always are viewing with that lens and considering the potential push backs or issues with the creative concepts. I am sure Pepsi wish they had consulted the PR prior to the release of that dire ad with Kendall Jenner.

To advertising’s credit, where once was the obsession of ‘PRing’ the ad, we are now seeing examples where the PR idea’s platform is in traditional ad space. Carlsberg pioneered this with its beer dispensing 48 sheet and Cadbury’s ‘Ask an Aussie’ billboard last year for its Caramilk launch. You know that with both campaigns PR wasn’t the afterthought, but the driving force around creating this disruptive OOH.” – Polly Atherton, Stir

PR = rocketing sales

“Throughout my career, I have been often asked about the value of PR and how will it increase sales. Wouldn't it be amazing if it was as simple as getting some great press and seeing sales skyrocket? Although PR might promote interest in a product or brand, it does not guarantee customers will flock to your door.

B2B public relations can help a brand or product gain credibility. It can help you get more leads, but it doesn't always mean you'll grow your sales. To do so, a brand must distribute and reuse coverage on social media, in blog articles, and advertisements, amongst other places in order to maintain its reputation.” – David Clare, Fox Agency

If you need further advice on when to bring PR into an integrated campaign or how to reuse coverage on social media, GO! can help!

How to measure the success of your PR strategy in 2023?

The impact of a PR campaign can be difficult to track. Unlike other forms of brand promotion such as online advertising, PR has no specific analytic metric that can be used to measure its success. As such, we asked our agencies how they measure the success of PR in 2023. 

Look at the ‘indirect’ outcomes of you PR efforts

“We still have clients who like to measure outputs but then, who doesn’t?

Of course, we can analyse the performance of a campaign by looking at metrics like the number of cuttings, engagements, and visits. However, it is becoming increasingly beneficial to measure the indirect outcomes - the number of sales, the number of subscribers and most importantly, repeat purchases and loyalty.” – Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, Liquid

Identify what success looks like for your PR strategy and establish your goals

“Being able to quantify the impact and implications of a campaign is key. We always prefer to work collaboratively with our clients to be able to identify firm success metrics at the onset of the campaign, meaning both parties are clear on what good looks like.

This process will involve working with clients to perhaps get access to their brand’s Google Analytics, sales data or even their internal brand tracking tools. With this level of access, we can then start to measure the more meaningful stuff that can help us demonstrate the power of PR to support the broader business objects, whether sales conversions or driving brand love etc.

Despite this, we are still asked by prospective clients for the archaic AVE. As part of our offering, we attempt to demonstrate the more sophisticated metrics, e.g. domain authority, social shares, comments and engagements on articles, UTM click-throughs to purchase, which are all far more valuable identifiers of impact.” – Polly Atherton, Stir

David Clare of Fox Agency discusses the importance of modern PR

There are tons of ways to measure the success of PR, but nothing beats witnessing an increase in brand awareness. Evaluating impressions, or the potential reach of your article/post/message, are pointless if those people don't see your brand – or, even better, act on it.

The trick to PR is to strike a balance between impressions and the elusive holy grail of closed sales or customer lifetime value. The best way to do this is by first establishing your goals, and from there, you can create an exact measurement mix to signify your success.” – David Clare, Fox Agency

An Integrated Approach - How PR impacts your Wider Marketing Strategy

At one time of day, marketing and PR were considered two separate entities each with their own purpose. Marketing drove sales through advertisements, and PR focused on the long-term strategy of building a brand’s reputation and awareness.

However, in today’s world where everything is digitally focussed and hyper-connected, marketing and PR work more closely than ever to create effective campaigns. For our final question, we asked David, Polly and Elisabeth some of the ways they have seen PR impact a broader marketing strategy.

Gaining markets and audiences from social and media coverage

“The development of new markets and audiences as a result of widespread social and media coverage.

Positive engagement stemming from this coverage can grow brand awareness in previously un-targeted areas and in turn, directly alter a company’s marketing strategy to enter these new markets. While we may be concentrating on local or regional areas, our content can be easily accessed from anywhere in the world, and can influence and resonate with audiences regardless of location.” – Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, Liquid

Using PR to maintain a brand reputation and identity throughout your marketing strategy

“Love or loathe them, BrewDog were masters in using PR to impact its wider marketing strategy particularly before they hit the scale. With the goal of creating a community of punks and appealing to this type of personality, they promoted employees who printed profanity on its cans, renamed a beer to a nickname for drugs, packaged its beer inside dead animals etc. You name it, every shocking idea in a brainstorm was used and initially to great success. 

Fast forward to 2023 and attempts to maintain this 'punk persona' as a mainstream brand are falling flat. Consumers are seeing through the hollow PR tactics, such as the recent claim one of their beers was healthy or the competition to win a not-gold ‘gold can’.  We’ve also seen backlash from their own past employees with reports and accusations of a toxic, bullying culture.

BrewDog aside, a brand that’s merging worlds of marketing and PR in the here and now is Thursday. The start-up dating platform, only online on its namesake day, has trialled multiple ‘budget’ stunts with great results. Predominantly coming from the POV of the ‘intern’, these campaigns come across as personable, un-corporate and most of all quick, reactive, and instantly sharable.

Everything the brand is doing is flipping the industry on its head, and being different to stand out from the cluttered market with many major players. But they too need to be wary of that fine line, as we’ve recently seen with the last couple of their PR attempts which missed the mark. Turns out consumers are not so keen on seeing a camel paraded on the streets of London to promote an app!” – Polly Atherton, Stir

Using PR to transform the way that brands communicate with consumers

“PR's use and impact on other marketing strategies has changed how brands communicate to consumers. The mechanisms to which brands interact with the general public have become integral in establishing vision, culture, and first impressions, whether this is through stunts or press releases.

Digital PR has leaked into various other marketing strategies, including social media and SEO strategy, creating a streamlined source of information for the public. This has changed how people interact and react to the brand making PR more attainable, resulting in a new era of ‘relationship marketing.’” – David Clare, Fox Agency

If you’re considering your own PR strategy or are re-evaluating an existing one, GO! can put you in touch with agencies who can help. Let us know your requirements here and we'll get started.

With thanks to our contributors:

Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, CEO, Liquid

Polly Atherton, Managing Director, Stir

David Clare, Head of PR, Fox Agency