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5 Reasons Why PR Can Finally Take The Lead In The Digital World

08/09/2016 11:51 AM IST | Updated 12/09/2016 11:02 AM IST
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"In the digital world, PR agencies will have a much larger play." This statement by Amitabh Kant, the CEO NITI Aayog, at a recent public relations and communications awards gathering, received thunderous applause from the audience. He said what everyone there wanted to hear. This is precisely what most PR agencies have being vying for since the time digital media took the communications industry by storm. Unfortunately, the disadvantage that the PR industry has had was that they were late starters in this field – as a result advertising and digital agencies have taken the lead even in areas where PR could have had an inherent advantage. This is set to change.

Most marketers are now focusing on creating content that is more relevant to users and enhances their mobile experience. This is where PR can play a big role...

As a PR and communications professional who has also worked closely in the digital industry, here are my top five reasons why I agree that PR will actually have a much larger play in the digital world.

1) Handling sensitive communication

We all understand how crisis spreads like wildfire in the digital space, even before traditional channels get a whiff of it. There have been so many examples of this, including the recent Emirates flight EK521 fire crisis. Most of the sharing of news and even the company's addressing of the media happened on digital platforms, including social media. PR specialists understand the nuances of a crisis scenario well and hence are able to devise the right communications approach to handling the situation.

2) Ad blocking is opening space for PR

With increased content consumption on mobile phones, consumers across the world are looking for a non-interrupted experience. They are willing to install software to block annoying ads. The growth of mobile ad blocking software is greater in Asia because of the infrastructure here. Mobile data is slow and expensive relative to income. Ads on mobile phones further consume data, making the content experience poorer. In India, the penetration of ad blocking is around 2%, which is around 4 million but is expected to increase. Thus, banner ads, which once brought in a lot of revenue for digital advertisers, are losing their effectiveness.

Most marketers are now focusing on creating content that is more relevant to users and enhances their mobile experience. This is where PR can play a big role as it has traditionally always focused on communication that is not directly talking just about the brand but about the industry, which consumers value more.

3) Brands are focusing more on outcomes than output

I have an interesting anecdote to share here. One of the top marketers of an Indian company once told me that he doesn't want to spend money on PR and social media because the RoI is over a long term, while display advertising helps him achieve quick results, meeting his short-term review goals. He also added that he does not plan to stay with the organization for long, so he isn't too concerned about the brand's long-term reputation!

Positive outcomes in the digital space can be delivered only through richer content, conversation and influence. PR has a much more significant role than advertising in all of these.

Brand marketers who want to create long-term impact do not think this way. They prefer to focus more on outcomes than output. Positive outcomes in the digital space can be delivered only through richer content, conversation and influence. PR has a much more significant role than advertising in all of these.

4) Engaging with influencers

Building a connection between the brand and its consumers/audience has been the single most important function of PR, for which engaging with the right influencers has been extremely vital. Digital influencers have as much authority as traditional ones, and have a loyal follower base. Digital PR specialists are well versed with the art of engaging with these influencers and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship between them and the brand.

5) Constant evolution of SEO

Communication in the digital world is becoming more and more about creating the right content for consumers, and SEO has a major role to play in this. SEO is still considered (unfortunately by PR professionals themselves) to be a highly technical subject beyond the purview of PR. The popular perception is that one needs to understand coding to be able to handle SEO projects. However, contrary to popular belief, the most important factor in the success of SEO is building the right content with the right messages.

The SEO landscape has changed significantly in the last decade or so. Gone are the days when SEO was only about stuffing content with keywords. Two important Google updates -- Google Panda and Google Penguin -- have created a paradigm shift in SEO. Today, SEO is only about content -- good quality, creative content that people really want to read and share. PR consultants have an intrinsic advantage in creating this kind of long form content, with apt messaging. What they need to learn and practice is to make it more SEO friendly, with the relevant keywords.

Anyone who can master all aspects of content will play a lead role in the new digital world!

So what should PR do to start taking a leadership position in the digital world?

In my view, PR must focus on all aspects of content (creation, designing and marketing) because that is what will most impact a brand's presence in the digital landscape. The creation of long form content has always been the forte of PR, but that's not enough in the digital sphere. Digital is about designing all forms of content better so that it attracts more consumers. According to research, 40% of people are likely to respond better to visual information than plain text. Visual content drives engagement. In fact, just one month after the introduction of the Facebook timeline for brands, visual content -- photos and videos -- saw a 65% increase in engagement. In addition, marketing of relevant content to the right audience will also be vital in gaining the mindshare of digital consumers. Anyone who can master all aspects of content will play a lead role in the new digital world!

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