The game has changed
Posted on September 17, 2017

In a world of constant digital evolution, is PR still relevant, asks Ahmad Itani, chief operating officer at Cicero & Bernay

Before I answer this question, let us time travel.

Ten short years ago, Apple launched its original iPhone and put iOT into our hands for the first time. Three years later, Instagram opened a million windows onto the world. Then Snapchat followed, making every user into a storyteller and revolutionising real-time communication. Just three milestones in a meteoric decade that has seen such progress that new dictionary definitions are being created every day: ‘instagrammable’, ‘clickbait’, ‘selfie’, ‘phablet’ and ‘digital detox’. We are quite literally re-writing our language to keep up with the growing pace of transformation.

The game has changed forever and I have witnessed it at first hand; it is characterised by the rise of a global culture that is more connected than it has ever been. This new era of connectivity has dramatically altered the shape and scope of work in my own industry – public relations and communication. Even the humble press release, which was once our bread and butter, has become a completely new beast with native content and the 24x7 newsfeed.

With the entire world talking on first name terms, a highly competitive environment has emerged. Brands and companies are competing for share of voice and business, and every individual has the potential to become a contributor to the global news flow.

Since the launch of Instagram, 40 billion images have been uploaded, which is remarkable when we consider that the world population currently stands at around 7.5 billion. Twitter blows that figure out of the water, with a staggering 200 billion tweets posted every year. With all this content, our engagement window is rapidly shortening. Dropping from eight seconds just a couple of years ago, according to the latest comScore survey, brands now have only five to six seconds to grab a consumer’s attention.

In this context, PR leaders face a new challenge. Now we need to harness the power of digital and new-age methods to reach consumers across a whole new paradigm, whether in the online sphere through fully-fledged social media campaigns and influencer engagement, on the ground with brand outreach and experiential activation, or via the media with exciting, consumer-centric content that secures that all-important click through or page turn. This is the only way to deliver measurable results for our clients and help them stand out from the growing competition.

So, is PR still relevant?

Now more than ever. PR is perfectly positioned to lead the building of brands for a number of reasons. Firstly, I believe what sets us apart from advertising and other forms of communication is a focus on facts. Public relations is content that is true. This appeals to today’s audience, which is increasingly suspicious of brand spiel. Secondly, we have first and direct access to information, brand leadership, and future plans, giving us the opportunity to ambitiously evolve our services with improved insight and ultimately, success. Thirdly, we have more channels of communication open to us now, taking our voice global and adding reach that covers all touch points. And finally, let me give you an analogy. If a brand were a human being, then everything it says and does – including what it looks like, where it meets you, why it does something, who it must never be and so much more – is within the remit of new-age public relations. This is the scope that must be covered, measured and constantly added to.

However, brand reputation isn’t the only public relations mandate anymore. Every player in this changed game must care about ROI. PR leaders need to focus on value creation and results that go beyond AVIs and clippings, and into tactics. Results need to be linked as much to marketing goals as to holistic brand philosophies. Seize these opportunities, and we’ll sweep the series. Resist the change and we’ll immediately drop the ball. The game has changed – PR will be the winner.