Prior to the digital age, public relations (PR) was mainly confined to press releases and journalistic news coverage. With the increasing technological advances of web development, ever-growing user adoption rates and the current social media hype, the power of journalistic media coverage is slowly fading as organisations use the power of the Internet to communicate with customers directly. The web has thus brought the public back into public relations but also tightened the historical gap between marketing and PR, as detailed later in this article.
The transition from traditional media PR to a mixed or full online PR requires marketing and PR professionals to collaborate and adapt communication and PR strategies. This change requires particularly careful planning, especially in slow-moving B2B niche markets, to adapt the mindset of the organisation to the increasing transparency and fast-paced nature of information dissemination via the web.
Rethink marketing and PR
With direct access to mainstream media and the digital breadcrumbs of customers, dependence on traditional media coverage through press releases is weakening and soaring journalistic budgets are slowly becoming a thing of the past. This is not to say that traditional PR is gone; industry giants like Apple, IBM or GE still benefit from the full attention of the press; the media coverage asymmetry for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has, however, changed to a large extent. Instead of allocating a large chunk of the budget to press events and journalists, companies can now use it to target digital information dispersion via microsites, online news, extranets, media rooms and various other channels and methods. To take full advantage of digital PR, marketing and PR professionals need to work together, share customer profiles and create a mutual online PR/communications strategy. The newly found power to control a larger part of the information in circulation needs to be strategically planned to ensure consistency, relevance and receptiveness.
Test the waters
With customers increasingly expecting and demanding authenticity in information dissemination, it is advisable to create an online PR strategy tailored not only to customer needs and wants, but also to the company’s cultural readiness for blogging or social media assimilation on the more advanced side of online PR. Having a Facebook page or a YouTube channel does not only facilitate low priced real-time information dispersion but it also opens the way for stakeholders to share their opinions. While this is a remarkable opportunity to enhance dual communication and disengage monologue driven PR, the risks are manifold and need careful consideration. A great way to test a company’s readiness for increasing online PR is to start a company internal blog or news feed. This allows you to measure and monitor employee behaviour and management commitment to a steady information flow, and provides some room for testing and learning before engaging your customers and the entire outside world. An online policy is advisable, as is management training in online communication. With the insight thus gained, a phased online PR introduction can be structurally planned, starting with reports in a newsroom or news site to social media.
Don’t push it
The suggested customer group profiles should provide information about customers’ online behaviour and information consumption behaviour. With your customer base being increasingly exposed to online content 24/7, your company’s PR needs to stand out without haunting the customer in his nightly dreams. Extranet applications are a great way for private SMEs with a limited customer base to provide on-the-spot, targeted and pull-ready information while elevating the customer’s privacy and status through tailorisation. More importantly, it allows you to professionally communicate and mitigates the risk of blog or social media legacies if your organisation is culturally not yet ready, customers’ online behaviour is contrary or your resources do not permit a more substantial engagement.
Measures for success
Before you start, make sure to set the right expectations within your organisation. Treating marketing and PR as investments is a great way to ease up the budgeting process; however similarly to traditional PR, online PR’s contribution to the bottom line is unfortunately not easily measured. Thought leadership, brand credibility and customer awareness all result from effective online PR, but are often hard to measure in earnings – a marketing balanced scorecard can help to display the causalities of online PR.
New game – new rules
1. Be on target – make messages relevant for your audience; set objectives for your online PR; not only to measure effectiveness but also to stimulate thinking about what it is you want to achieve.
2. Timing is essential – pull information relies on timely and regular updates. Whatever form of online PR you engage in, schedule your engagement and stick to it.
3. Integrated Online PR – use various channels and media. Make sure these are complementary and your messages are aligned throughout all channels.
4. Engage your audience – use links, calls to action and other response tools where applicable to close the customer feedback loop.
5. Be authentic – talk your company’s language. Do not use Wall Street jargon if you sell engine spare parts – customers will notice the difference. Speak your audience’s language.
6. Strategise – create a compelling online PR / communication strategy, research the audience, look for changes in your target audience’s online information consumption. Be constantly on the move.
published in: B2B Marketing