Public relations and Corporate Communications is rapidly evolving. This is, in part, because Social Media is forcing it to. This Q&A (as part of a story on Campaign Asia) looks at how social media is forcing PR to evolve beyond media relations and message creation into a more holistic craft that has a greater impact within a company.
What is driving the trend towards PR activities being increasingly focused on building and protecting corporate reputation?
I see this being directly related to the rise of social media, as well as a change in consumer expectations (they want information and answers now!), increased competition and most importantly, brands becoming much more transparent to customers (again, via social media). The change in focus away from dealing with a few key influential publications to communicating directly on a one-to-one basis with consumers means that the focus has swung away from crafted messages into responding quickly “on message” to customer enquiries. Everyone has an opinion. With social media, customers are now free to express their opinion, in real-time, or the entire world to see and comment on. This has meant that corporate reputation management is more important than ever. Within large organizations the responsibility for this has fallen onto the Corporate Communications team and their PR agencies to manage.
From your experience, what are clients asking for specifically in terms of PR and what is needed to build corporate reputation?
Brands still need core PR and communications services. These services are essentially about getting a message about their brand, product or service into the mass media. What I’m seeing as the evolution to this is brands needing help to engage more directly with individuals who are influencers. This can be anything from a celebrity to an industry expert with a reasonably sized Blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or Weibo following to a very niche targeting of a large number of individuals in social media interest groups in more of a marketing-like way. This is a natural progression of PR but the consequence of this is social media is harder to control than mass media, and the response tends to be in real-time. This means that brands are asking PR agencies and internal Corporate Communications teams to also manage that social media response, which means they need to become experts in social media listening, responding in real-time to influencer or customer queries and have much deeper engagement with other internal teams to rapidly respond to customers.
Is consumer PR still important for tech brands?
Having a direct and meaningful connection into consumers and key influencers in the tech industry is critically important. Traditional PR still plays a strong role but my view is that this role is being eroded in line with the rise and increasing importance of social media and digital communications. The more important question for PR professionals is whether they should own social media, or whether it sits more comfortably in a Marketing Manager or Digital Agency’s area of responsibility? Right now I see Consumer PR at a cross-roads – do they dive in and own influencer relations and social media communications from end-to-end (listening, being the first line in customer service, responding quickly to customer feedback in social media, etc.) or do they become a niche area in their company focusing just on crafting messages that other teams deliver and manage?
Are agencies in Asia equipped to offer these more sophisticated services?
There’s still a gap between pitching these services and the ability to operationalise them for a brand. For example, Dell has over 25,000 conversation every day about its brand, products and customer service through social media. This requires a huge leap in the ability to listen, discuss and attempt to resolve questions, concerns and issues. It requires the same level of immediacy as crisis communications, every day. It also requires a broader skill set than having a contact list of journalists and crafting messages – it requires a strong understanding of customer service, having deep relationships into other parts of the organization and a good grasp of technology. I believe PR agencies want to be a key partner to brands but agency professionals are not well trained in this new technology, nor do they want to own social media end-to-end. I see this as a missed opportunity.