The importance of PR in digital

Senior PR Manager Jacqui Clelland examines the increasing prominence of digital and social media and the importance of PR in this new digital landscape.

In the tech world that surrounds us today where there over one billion people active on Facebook and where 100 million users of Twitter log-in daily, ‘digital’ might seem like one ‘small word’ and one ‘small step for mankind’, but it's certainly made some giant waves in the PR industry.

The essence of PR in the last few years has always been about securing media coverage for clients – either helping them to get into the press or keeping them out for whatever reasons. Either way, the name of the game was always about influencing the media and a client's audience (the public) to maintain a good reputation and enhance business bottom-line.

Now, the ripple-effect of digital channels and social media means that everyone can have their say, be it your client's friends or foe. And this is the reason why the PR expert needs to put themselves at the heart of ‘public’ relations and steer that ship to shore.

These days anyone can build a blog, make a vlog, set up a Facebook or Instagram page or Twitter account. This means that the public can make or break a business through this element of sharing in a relatively short amount of time, however, the PR consultant's role in the digital landscape is arguably more important today in the art of steering the ‘public conversation’ than ten years ago.

The biggest leap for PR lies in community management for clients. PR consultants who preferred to live in a world (in the stone age) where messages could be tightly controlled might just freak-out at the thought of managing a community on Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere that gives the public full access to the 'internet' to vent their wrath and to criticise 'their clients'. And, for these consumers to share and then share again... what, negative stuff? Oh heaven forbid!! Nonetheless, this is a sign of the digital times.

Many businesses have jumped on the bandwagon and are choosing digital channels over traditional media to share their news, but traditional media is still equally relevant. The UK now has many more magazines, newspapers and broadcasters than ever before – sure some titles have got progressive and built digital models, but traditional media is and always will be highly influential.

The key role of the PR consultant is to ensure that relationships with these media models thrive. PR has always been about people, about building media relationships with a view to influencing the public through the content of stories in publications, and on TV and on the radio.

Social media has now taken this to a new level, which means that the PR expert has to successfully manage what has become a very public relationship on the internet by going straight to the coalface of digital, joining the social airwaves and cutting out the middleman.

Where storytelling has always been part of the traditional skill-set, the PR consultant's new role in sharing a client's news still lies in seeking out the angles and telling stories.

In social media, this means sharing the information in shorter bites for content creation for digital channels, where it can be shared. And this ability to drip-feed and share a positive story is in fact a PR-man or woman's dream – after all, we can always post links to the bigger picture or even a video!

These storytelling skills are as valuable in social media as in the form of the traditional press release, they just need to be adapted for the digital age.

The old fashioned name of the invention the 'Information Superhighway' should perhaps have been the first warning that that PR would have to adapt. We knew then that information was going to be shared and ‘quickly’. Second to this was Facebook's speedy connectivity abilities, which proved nothing short of 'rocket science' at our fingertips!

Rather than see this as a negative any PR man or woman worth his salt views this as the perfect opportunity.

PR might not be all about controlling the conversation anymore, but what a good PR man or woman can do is engage with the public to facilitate discussion and bring influence to the table via the new digital channels – just like we used to do through a press release.

by Jacqui Clelland, Senior PR Manager