Digital Strategy

PR and Digital

In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing tension between PR and Digital teams. I see this as part of the natural progression of the digitization of the media space, as evidenced by the brutal demise of traditional media outlets, especially the broadsheets.

The PR team used to function as the intermediary between the brand and the media, but the shift to digital has seen  those boundaries become blurred. Where they used to be able to craft the message, now they are having to give up that power as consumers co-create the “narrative” with the brand, as represented by the digital team.

Its hard to blame the PR team for not being enthused at being supplanted by this upstart team. This obviously extends to PR agencies as well, who have reacted by creating separate “digital” arms. Its a trend I picked up on during my recent sabatical, where I was approached by several agencies to take on the Digital Lead role. My conversations with them made it clear that the main objective would be to make them look like they knew what they were talking about in front of their clients.

I would have become a showpony, to be trotted out whenever the client had a digital need.

dancing show pony via buzzfeed.com
Thanks, but no thanks. (Image via buzzfeed.com)

But where there is a challenge, there is also opportunity. I’ve worked with a couple of forward facing agencies and in-house teams that “get” digital. They are the best partners a digital team can have, as they understand the nuances of creating the “narrative” better than anyone else. The PR team also knows the brand, and they have the experience of dealing with people face-to-face, something digital teams are not strong at.

By embracing this change, these forward-facing PR teams can partner with the digital team to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.  They have different skills that can complement each other, and this is how the best partnerships are formed. Based on personnel chemistry, this partnership can be natural and seamless. However, as that’s something that can’t be planned for, a more formal roles and responsibility guide may be necessary:

PR Digital
Influencers Develop the in-person relationship with the Influencers. Own the influencer acquisition strategy. Monitor, amplify and engage online. Identify new potential influencers
Social Develop the content, but leaves it up the the Digital team to execute (publish and engage) Align with the corporate message, but it should by a very small percentage (<20%) of all out-going communications.
Branding Provide the brand story – ensuring that long-form content meets corporate guidelines Should be just as aware of corporate branding requirements.
Campaigns Lead the development of awareness driven campaign creative strategy and messaging Execute awareness campaign. Iterate to deliver KPIs, and develop and manage activities for lower in the funnel.
Reputation Management Manage the offline reolution of the issue. Triage process to determine whether it requires offline intervention. In which case, PR team in roped in.
Crisis Management Owns the crisis management plan. Plan should include templated, approved digital content that can be published at short notice. Usually the first to identify potential issue. Immediately activated the PR team.

This is a very simple example of how the two teams would work together. Of course, this relationship will evolve over time, and should ideally lead to the two teams merging, as and when the “big” media industry dies (one can only hope). With so much content out there, and our attention being divided by more screens, it will get harder and harder to justify shelling out money for content.  We are already starting to see a new generation of news media like qz.com, mic.com and AJ+. Not to mention the billions of blogs out there.

Finally, a word of advise for the PR agencies out there:

Please stop saying you “Do” digital.

If that means you’re just going to hire a digital guy or girl, please stop. If you want to DO digital, show the client that you “get it”. Bring them competitive digital intelligence reports generated from social listening data. Proactively tell them which influencers they should be targetting. Show them a creative concept that would work both online and offline. Add value to to the work you are already doing, instead of thinking of it as another way to bill the client.

You do that, and I will become your biggest advocate.

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