Happy (belated) New Year! January is the month of fresh starts, the time when people vow to kick their bad habits and create some good ones. People typically associate New Year’s Resolutions with personal goals, but they can also be really helpful for getting your business in shape.
That’s why we’re starting an interview series in which we will share advice and insights from PR pros who are in the trenches every day. The first interview is with Aly Saxe, who works with public relations software company Iris. Read the first part of her interview below.
What is the most significant difference in public relations today compared to a decade ago?
I know this sounds cliché, but it really feels to me that the more things change the more they stay the same. The biggest difference, I believe, is probably the breadth of influencers and ways to reach them. A decade ago we were still going heavy for print and there were probably a quarter of the number of influencers, which limited to traditional journalists and analysts. We called or emailed to get in touch, that was it. Now, well over half of the folks we work on building relationships with would fall under that category of “thought leader” and could come from any type of background, and reaching that influencer might be accomplished in 10 different ways. It certainly makes the PR pro’s job harder in some ways, easier in others.
At the end of the day, it still comes down to finding the right influencer, tailoring your pitch and working on building a good relationship over time. I don’t think that will ever change.
How is the integration of technology impacting PR agencies?
Look, every other marketing discipline has integrated technology into their day-to-day workflow. They don’t start or end their day without it. The fact that PR agencies as well as internal PR organizations are still working primarily out of email and spreadsheets is very telling about how underserved our market is. PR teams that have taken the time to integrate tech into their processes are 1) heads and tails above their competition and 2) finally catching up to their marketing counterparts.
It’s not their fault that they’ve been devoid of tech for so long. PR is the smallest discipline in the marketing world, and I would argue it’s the hardest and most specialized. For this reason, the tools that have been offered to PR pros in the past have been developed by non-PR people, and they always have the wrong end-user in mind. For instance, the CMOs and marcomm directors your agency reports to could all subscribe to a media contact database, a newswire and a monitoring tool, and they could all use those tools without an iota of PR know-how. That’s why these tools are so prolific, because they are designed to be used by really anyone for DIY PR, more so than by actual PR pros who know how to use them in a way that aligns with a real PR strategy. Spray and pray, anyone?
What we’re seeing now in the PR tech landscape are tools that are designed to really integrate with what the PR pros do day in and day out. Iris falls into this category. I believe the integration of tools like these will mean the PR industry steps into a whole new realm of sophistication. In the near future, PR pros will rely less on experience and gut instinct and more on data to design strategies, make recommendations and set expectations. The integration of technology will also lead to easier validation that PR is a critical component of any growth strategy, and that not everyone can do it.
What do consumers expect from PR agencies/departments? How does this differ from the past?
I love this question. Consumers expect honesty and transparency. They always have, but now it’s inevitable that they’ll get it because nothing stays hidden anymore. Gone are the days when it was the role of the PR department to (gag) spin a story or sweep something under the rug. And good riddance. Any PR pro worth their salt has always strived to help their companies and clients be open with their consumers, even when the news isn’t good. Now at least we have a pile of social media-gone-wrong examples to back up that recommendation.
What is the biggest challenge the public relations industry is experiencing right now?
Lack of data. We talk to PR pros all day long and, when it comes to setting strategy and making decisions, it’s largely based on past experience and gut instinct. The PR industry needs data. Industry-wide, deeply insightful, expectation-setting data. When a client asks for a speaker’s bureau strategy in Q2 and wants your agency to blow 50 percent of the retainer budget on it, you should be able to tell them to expect a 3 percent return on that effort and that they’re better off just buying the sponsorship that comes with a spot on the panel they want. Marketing can do this. Sales can do this. PR needs to be able to do this.
How can technology address that challenge?
Iris is doing its part (shameless plug) but let’s be clear: we need a marketplace of software platforms that collect, aggregate and supply meaningful data for the PR industry. We need PR influencers to promote the idea of utilizing data – why it’s so critical and how it can be used to streamline efficiency and prove PR value. At every PR event there should be at least one case study presentation on how a PR team used data to improve performance. Not marketing data, PR data. There’s a difference.
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