There’s no doubt that the worlds of public relations, marketing and digital content strategy are converging. Except in specialized situations, it’s hard to imagine a situation today where the ongoing practice of public relations can be isolated from social media, native advertising and good web content.
When working with our clients we regularly create strategies that call for us to pay for content placement on blogs, for example, but this is nothing new. Advertising has always had a role to play in PR.
The practice of public relations is often about reshaping perceptions of a cause, a concept, an organization or a product. Over the past few decades, North Americans have learned that smoking is poisonous, drinking and driving wrecks lives and wearing seat belts makes sense. More recently we have discovered that same-sex marriage doesn’t hurt anyone, that good television programs can be found outside of your TV, and that self-driving vehicles are quite likely safer than human-driven ones.
All of these things involved PR campaigns of one sort or another, because they had to overturn previously held beliefs and replace them with a new way of doing things or looking at the world. Governments, non-profits and private enterprises worked very hard on earning valuable press coverage to win converts to the new points of view. Speakers talked to millions of people to persuade them that we need to change their behaviour.
And millions of dollars were spent on advertising them all.
Advertising is the great re-enforcer. The PR campaign that’s rolled out through photo ops, town halls and speeches, is supported by advertising the same concepts. Where those first person opportunities (either through a TV interview or a trade show) carry great credibility and resonance, advertising gives us the ability to repeat our messages to larger audiences.
Today, advertising has a bigger role to play in PR as we are offered a growing universe of opportunities where we can ‘pay to play’. Some bloggers demand a stipend to write about a product or a service. Media outlets will happily publish or broadcast paid content next to their own editorial. Digital ad platforms greedily push content to every screen in the world – handheld, desktop or otherwise.
With ever shrinking newsrooms and a growing reliance on social media feeds to receive our daily news, it’s likely that paid placements of one sort or another are going to be a major part of what we do in the future. We are also forever looking at ways to develop and distribute content that gets our clients’ messages across to the right audiences.
Perhaps there was a time when PR could rely solely on publicity to get its messages across. I’m not sure that was ever the case. Today – in a world where everyone from corporations to your grandmother is scrambling for attention on your smartphone – you need to use all the tactics at your disposal to be heard.