When looking at the historical approach to PR we can wrongly judge that the discipline is declining. What is declining though are the old touchpoints and well-worn approaches to the PR thinking and planning. The industry is thriving and evolving and going through the “second youth”, being fuelled by new ideas brought to the pool by Generation Y.
So why is this happening despite of the fact of declining press circulation and a drop in TV and radio audiences? The answer is simple: this decline has not been accompanied by the decline of brands. And the brands need to communicate their ideas and tactics to the broad audiences in order to stay alive and very much connected. Therefore, being in the middle (or at the end, I do not know) of a staggering period of 10 years of growth (both USA and China just reported better than expected GDP with EU traditionally lagging behind, although with green numbers) – brands need to communicate to water their fields.
Since there is a will there is a way. So, a number of disciplines aroused which with a bit of good will can be counted as broad spectrum of communication techniques labelled as PR (at least they are being performed by agencies who call themselves PR agencies or communications agencies). Starting with which we can stick PR, and that includes brand PR,
to almost all ”modern” ways of communication with audiences. Let’s begin with celebrities and influencers who love to communicate through social media.
If we take Ellen DeGeneres Samsung stunt performed during Oscars gala in 2014 one can definitely label it a PR activity regardless the fact Samsung reportedly invested in the gala presence and partnership with ABC and connected activities c.a. 20 Mio USD. Comparing that to the number of retweets and worldwide media coverage (88 Mio in social impressions only, 44 Mio Oscars Gala TV audience) leads to the conclusion of a relatively low investment given the return. One of the companies involved in preparation and execution of the activities – Edelman Digital NY roots itself directly from PR industry. Another one – 72andsunny – recently made and executed Adidas’ Here to create campaign which is based on cooperation
with celebrities and influencers starting from Karoline Wozniacki (tennis) to Adriene Mishler (yogawithadriene.com) and whose huge part is being created and executed on Instagram with a PR leg. 72andsunny say about themselves “We make brands matter in culture”, a statement matching a very PR attitude despite of the fact of being labelled as a “full-service advertising company”.
If we look at awarded (and therefore visible) Public Relations campaigns the first somewhat surprising fact about them is that in big festivals like Cannes Lions those campaigns gain accolades also in other than PR categories. Looking at TO THE LAST TREE STANDING by Ogilvy with cooperation with Greenpeace Poland gives the impression that categorization and labelling is the main factor for increasing festival fees and does not matter anywhere else. Out of 11 awards the campaign was given 2 belong to PR category (one silver, one bronze) but two most precious Golden Lions were awarded for Media and Entertainment categories.
On the other hand, the campaign TODAY AT APPLE is a great example of a missing award opportunity. Gaining Grand Prix for Brand Experience and Activation and Titanium for a great campaign which involved millions of consumers drawing them to all Apple stores worldwide in order to present them with opportunity of gaining knowledge and skills regarding their passions – photography, music and coding – and using Apple products. Clearly a CSR activity as it is, with 600 000 sessions held in 501 Apple “temples” entering it in PR categories at Cannes Lions would bring a bunch of awards and even more exposure. Yet, if you look at entrant companies of this particular campaign it turns out Apple entered the campaign itself, including PR Agency – “Apple, Cupertino, USA” it says. So maybe the gang was just not interested?
Another example of blurred public relations boundaries is JetBlue’s FLYBABIES which was awarded with Bronze in PR Events and Stunts and shortlisted elsewhere (including Film, Promo and Activation, Media and Outdoor). The campaign focused on emphasising the issue of traveling with babies on board of airplanes, pointing out it is not only troublesome for
some comfort-loving passengers but a source of stress and sometimes embarrassment for mothers who cannot control crying babies during the flight. The campaign used a set of techniques in order to create content for (corporate PR?) communication. It started with a special inflight promotion: each time a baby cried, all passengers received a 25% discount on future airfare. The promotion was documented with a film and accompanied by a separate documentary that describes the situation from a mother’s point of view. The topic had been seeded through a number of disseminators starting from niche mom bloggers (empathic to the campaign message) to influencers like BlogHer, SheKnows or Momtastic which included original content. The initial seeding capitalized on media interest in Mother’s Day stories which brought earned coverage. Finally, the content was pushed across owned channels in order to effectively reach the target audience: moms. This set of media and content techniques (which included paid, owned an earned media) resulted in driving awareness of FlyBabies and
As in examples above, I tend to think of new and re-defined PR as of set of possibilities which create a complete universe of touchpoints and techniques for marketing brands, products and ideas. An approach rather than discipline. A way of thinking which makes creators aware of real human needs and stops treating audiences as “consumers” and “shoppers” in an effort of engaging them in meaningful conversations. And looking at PR as a special way of speaking through media will allow us to create strong messages that transcend boundaries. This being our aim and by all means a way to enter media – whichever media you want, be it owned, earned or paid.