The concept of PR as a solo standalone practice has long been trending downwards. That said, snagging the cover of the latest magazine (if it’s still in print), or a high-profile piece on Yahoo’s homepage (for a few hours) is still an incredible success in the pitch-and-place world. It’s just that we don’t live in a pitch-and-place world anymore.
Communications budgets have been on a downward spiral for years, as PR was asked to do more for less, and secure press for ideas it didn’t create. While data, creative, and media were being brought closer together, PR was being further isolated from its most contributory role: not just generating earned media, but being a full participant in marketing strategy from the origination point. If the trend away from traditional PR roles was accelerating prior to COVID-19, the crisis killed it once and for all—but has also led to an earned media-driven renaissance in marketing.
With consumers trapped at home, marketers found sands rapidly shifting under their feet—and that shift forced the restructuring of the entire marketing infrastructure. Offline activation ground to a halt. Social and digital became saturated and at times seemed superficial. Media became less effective, as demand either dried up or soared on its own. On top of it all, every company was forced to adopt consumer-first messaging around the crisis and the public’s needs, pivoting away from product and conversion at the risk of looking opportunistic during a challenging time. You could throw a rock in any direction and hit the same commercial, the same version of “we’re here for you, we’ll get through it together” from any creative team on the planet.
And what was left standing? Not PR for PR’s sake, but PR in a long-awaited embrace of its true nature as brand strategy leadership
Now, agency efforts weren’t just about the latest cover or homepage. They focused on crisis messaging, innovative programming, brand repositioning, and third-party coverage and validation. Better brand strategy became more saturated and credible through PR-driven third-party channels. And better brand strategy led by earned media moved faster in response to the crisis, generating increased awareness and consumer affinity, powered more effective creative, lowered conversion costs for media, and delivered better ROI across the board.
Company CMOs who had long starved communications budgets in favor of expensive creative and media suddenly found themselves seeing that a proper brand strategy, grounded in PR and properly-funded, delivered superior ROI both independently and for every integrated marketing channel.
“Earned media-led marketing,” as the buzzword goes, generated results for itself and everyone else across the board
Of course, putting communications forward doesn’t mean depriving media, creative, and other practice groups of a role—rather, it acknowledges that marketing is an entire ecosystem, and a proper PR strategy can fuel greater return for everyone.
PR did what we’ve been saying it could do for years: help our clients respond faster, move creatively, and deliver on its full embrace of a completely integrated marketing plan. PR stopped being about what headline you nabbed and more about what strategy it created, and how that strategy was integrated across every marketing channel.
The funny thing is, the pivot of traditional PR as an industry is good for the PR industry. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, what is standing in its place is what PR has always been: a comprehensive brand strategy that drives reputation, awareness, affinity and conversion through third party audience channels—and which delivers for every component a comprehensive marketing infrastructure, to the benefit of all clients.