PR does not mean Press Release. Sure, it has the same initials as Public Relations, but let’s get things straight: Public Relations (PR) is the way organizations, companies and individuals communicate with the public and media. While press releases are part of the tactics used in PR, they are only one of the links in the communications chain.
PR has been widely employed by organizations across the globe for over a century and has come a long way, with diversified tactics, the rise of social media and the power of digital that are all shaping present day communications. There are now more ways to reach out to the target audience than ever before, with the help of specialized and niche publications, email marketing, owned content, storytelling, digital platforms and mobile applications, to name just a few.
Why is it then that some companies still cannot get past the press release distribution machine idea they have of PR?
Despite so many other ways to communicate, it seems press releases still play an important role in the marketing mix for many organizations, and for good reasons. It helps journalists’ source stories for their pages or websites, while at the same time spreading the company’s message to the audience. But when is a press release really necessary and when is it just a page filler for the company?
If you think you have an important announcement to make about your company that all your peers and target audiences need to or would like to know about, ask yourself the following questions first:
- Is it newsworthy? Will this make it on top of the journalists’ pile of press releases? With hundreds if not thousands of releases flooding editors’ inboxes, how will yours stand out? Maybe adding a new client to your portfolio or opening a new office is great news to your company and employees, but how does it impact your peers, the community or the industry? Find that connection and impactful factor or reconsider the target media and audience you plan to reach.
- Is it relevant? Make sure you understand who you are targeting with the release. For example, a new partnership or distributor announcement might only be relevant to channel media. Also, consider if it ties in with a particular event, trending story or a time sensitive issue. Depending on the news angle, adapt the message to the target audience or be selective in the distribution to reach the right people.
- Is it regional? Global corporate announcements might be necessary, but that doesn’t mean a one size fits all. Adapt the news according to the local market it is distributed in. If you have a global report or survey results you want to share across all markets, make sure you have local data for all the regions you plan to tap into. Highlight the figures and data relevant for that particular region and use local spokespeople for the quotes.
- Does it answer all the questions?A press release should address the “Who? What? When? Where? How? And Why?” questions from the first paragraph. Sometimes the how or why will be more important than the who, but if you can’t answer these questions from the beginning, there might not be any news angle at all.
- Is it the right tactic? Don’t send a press release just for the sake of it or because it sounds good, think if there are other ways to disseminate the message or use the content, like a featured article or a case study instead. It might not get as many clippings as a release distribution, but it would most likely be quality coverage that allows you to delve into the topic more thoroughly than a standard press release would.
We may never see the dawning day of press releases, but the perception of PR needs to be shifted in the eyes of clients who expect their agencies to churn out cover page news. There are still many companies who approach PR agencies with this tactical brief mentality. However, it’s up to us agencies to educate and advise them that there is a lot more to our role than writing and distributing news announcements. When the approach to PR briefs changes, we all stand to gain: clients, agencies, media and ultimately, the public.
The Middle East is a region of diversity, with people from multicultural backgrounds. Despite the differences, there is one strong trait common in most people in the region: the spirit of giving and helping others. Whether it is on an individual basis or at a community level, it is strongly pronounced and regularly practiced. But not all good acts are made for the same reasons. How can we distinguish today an act of giving back or supporting a particular cause from the hunger for publicity and fame?
A lot of companies run regular CSR events and have dedicated teams that take care of such initiatives. Some causes are being overly supported as they get more publicity every year, breast cancer awareness for example. But when it comes to giving, is it ethical enough to support popular causes or should it be about making the difference?
For more than 14 years, Active has been running multiple CSR campaigns for its clients in the Middle East. In the meantime, it offers free PR services to such nonprofit organizations as Shukran Workers and Team Angel Wolf and knows what mistakes companies shouldn’t be making when it comes to giving.
- Make the difference!
Don’t just talk about your good deed and commitment, message the bottom line that you expect from your efforts. Is this the cause that really requires more support from the community? Whether it is sustainability or underprivileged children, do more than just one event a year showing how responsible you are. The end result should be better awareness about the cause amongst the target community and not the greatness and generosity of your organization.
- Keep it relevant to your business as much as possible
It is absolutely normal for companies to participate or run initiatives that are less relevant to the origin of their business. But do you really want to tell the world that your business supported a local cat shelter, while your main focus should be on sustainability? Should a local retail bank for instance shout out about a free lunch they offered to 1,000 construction workers, or should they make an emphasis on free financial planning seminars they have organized for local SMEs? It is important to stay consistent and be associated with the cause that relates to your business the most. You should also make sure the news you promote is tied into an overall strategy. If you don’t have a CSR strategy, get one.
- Contribute as a team and not just as an entity!
If you decided to support particular causes or participate in bigger initiatives that are supported by many, don’t just do it to tick it off. Make sure that the whole company is aware, message it properly internally and get as many employees and stakeholders involved. Whether a beach clean-up or food baskets for underprivileged people, allow your team to take a physical rather than financial part in it. It will reflect positively on the culture of the organization, build the spirit of unity internally and will appear as genuine in the media. It will also offer another great opportunity for the company under the form of social media content that can be shared and promoted.
No matter what the company does and what cause it decides to support, there is always a chance for any CSR activity to go wrong. If anything at all goes wrong with your CSR initiative, be as honest and transparent as possible. Hiding in the era of digital technologies, when news gets spread with the speed of light, will not serve you well.
As the PR world evolves and transforms, it is highly important for PR professionals to understand the way digital will play an integral part in their work activities.
According to Google’s 2015 Connected Consumer Survey, digital is having a profound influence on how people in the UAE live their lives. The widespread use of mobile is a contributing factor, with smartphone adoption taking centre stage, as 89 % of people of people access the internet daily from their phones.
With the help of digital communications, PR practitioners will be able to offer their clients a variety of options online and offline to reach the right target audience and keep brands trendy and relevant too.
- Social Media Advertising on the rise
With thought leadership strategies serving as such a great base for public relations efforts, we’re seeing more and more thought leaders produce and distribute content around their brands and expertise to fuel those PR efforts.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 content benchmark report, more than 50 percent of B2B marketing professionals use social ads and promoted posts to distribute content, and the effectiveness ratings for each of these methods have increased since last year. These figures show more marketing and communications professionals are focusing on social media advertising and noticing higher and higher returns. It is also a great way for clients to promote their opinion on a particular topic and establish themselves as industry influencers.
In order to keep up with the ever changing digital world, communication professional need to look at new ways to diversify in paid advertising and reach new audiences.
- Ad blocking
According to Hotwire’s Communication Trends Report for 2016, Display ads and pop-ups and advertising banners are no longer effective and ruin the user’s browsing experience. The ad-blocking option has grown popular due to consumer’s intolerance of bad advertising along with slow loading times and high volume of ads. Advertisers need to adapt their strategies and find new innovative ways to target their key audience
AdBlock, the world’s most popular ad blocking software, has been around since 2009. Over a period of time, because of this ad-blocking software, it has been increasingly difficult for brands to advertise.
Publishers will take decisive action against ad blockers by adapting and enhancing their ad propositions and taking steps to educate users about the importance of the ad-funded model. In a bit of a technology arms race, publishers will use adblock blockers or “adblocker walls” to make sure ads are shown. Others will try to reason with visitors, asking them to turn off their adblockers or whitelist their site. The adblock commotion will continue in 2016, but the end result will be a more respectful advertising experience.
By focusing on improving user experience, and delivering ads that are truly engaging, advertisers and publishers will halt the uptake of ad blocking technology and can begin to repair relationships with their consumers. These actions are likely to result in fewer, more creative ads per page and, over the longer term, will lead to an increase in average CPM rates.
PR experts will have to find a novel way to advise clients on how to best promote their paid campaigns and reach their target audience.
- Real Time
Nowadays, when information is omnipresent and news are just a click away, content needs to be regularly updated and uploaded to make sure your audience has the most current information on hand.
However, the growing need to have information, news and gossip doesn’t quite meet the demand as content providers tend to miss out on this opportunity.
From spoiler alerts and breaking news, Apps such as Periscope, Snapchat and Meerkat allow you to share experiences that are happening right now and are further changing how we communicate with our audience, according to Hotwire’s Communication Trends Report 2016
Important news stories that are trending and taking social media by storm and events are finding a way to give viewers behind the scenes footage, access to information as soon as it happens and highlights of events so consumers will never unplug. The real question is how does your client contribute and plug in?
If your client hasn’t already jumped on this trend, there is a high chance they will be left behind and run over by the competition.
Considering the recent cyber security breaches with Ashley Madison, Sony and British Airways, privacy and information security has become a major concerns across the digital world. These breaches have led social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to upgrade their security and create more privacy tools to avoid this situation.
PR firms who handle technology clients may want to seize this opportunity and get them prepared for speaking opportunities, interviews or perhaps thought leadership as they may be able to offer detailed insights on this particular topic.
- Online reputation management
When you pitch a story or a piece of content to a publication editor or journalist, the first thing a lot of them do is search who you are and what your company does, as they receive hundreds of pitches each day. They might only have a few seconds to look into you, and that search can go one of two ways: They either like what they see and follow through, or they don’t.
If there is solid content online about your company, your brand and expertise when a journalist searches for it online, you already increase your chances of being published. In order to better manage your online reputation, it’s important to consistently create and publish quality content. Also, checking what information is published about your company, brand and industry on a daily basis via Google Alerts and making sure you have a crisis management plan in case of a negative situation presents itself is crucial!
The public relations industry has seen dramatic evolution over the years (especially in the last few). If we want to continue evolving within our field, we have to pay attention to upcoming trends and changes in our practices or we might just get left behind.