Why PR should be the heart and soul of your planning.
New era. New realities. New rules.
As much as people find comfort in holding onto them, the old rules are not always part of the playbook you should be following.
The last 18 months have been seismic in terms of marketing changes, resetting mindsets en masse when it comes to brand and audience relationships.
A big claim, but evidenced by an increased blurring of corporate and consumer stories (consumers really care how businesses treat their staff), more ‘helpful’ content that helps people do something smarter (solution storytelling), and campaigns that land the doing-things-better-together vibe (making a difference marketing).
The constant here is that none of these realities lie in fixed repetitive messages. They dive instead into landing understanding over awareness, fuelled by education and explanation, and heart and soul dialogue.
Which means hello PR, time for you to take the lead
Because it’s now very much a time of ‘pull’ not ‘push’ for consumer attention. It’s a world where the flight to digital we had to adopt opens up more active and accessible audiences than ever before…but with audiences who are at the same time picky and quick to click by without stopping.
And it’s a time for more conversation. Personalisation. And listening.
Where the PR trump card lies.
It’s always been a discipline about listening. Not just to demographics (limiting), focus groups (I could be rude) or tradition (did I mention seismic?). But to bigger picture behaviours, conversational data, and what the media are writing about and the audience is reacting to.
The issue has always been that brands associate PR with amplification and coverage. That’s not to say it doesn’t do that, but it places the discipline in a secondary role. Nice to have. Support.
Yet that misses the point of rich PR commercial value: in being a web traffic driver because storytelling has piqued curiosity; or in helping the phones ring with stockist enquiries because of the ‘brand in context’ stories being told; in the cleverness of timely and topical social posts that make the brand one of the gang to buy today; or in being the glue within a wider marketing campaign where PR has both smoothed the way in and shouted about what it means when it’s out there….
And now, in our new era of fresh values, priorities, challenges, hybridised worlds and the quest for more positivity and joy in life, PR has to be centre stage.
A fluid world needs a greater focus on a fluid response. Emotional meets rational, tone of voice fit for occasion or recipient, and stewardship through the questions consumers have afresh of brand ‘behaviour’ (cultural/societal/ environmental).
With the big picture shift in mind, four areas stand out as rich for brand PR storytelling to become the critical tool to genuinely engage an audience.
· Don’t see staff and internal comms as a lesser priority. Not just in terms of keeping the comms flow live, energised and motivating, but in terms of using employees as storytellers. Ambassadors. The most authentic of influencers. From brand pride, insider perspectives, their innovative contributions and human to human bridge building, nothing says genuine more than being a brand that is confident in the sum of its parts and its people.
· Don’t hide the ESG journey you are on. The game isn’t over, no one has completed it, perfect doesn’t exist. But as with the X factor (and its now ex status), the part people got behind in the story was the ‘journey’. So don’t be afraid to talk barriers, challenges, things that are being trialled, the questions you are asking yourself, and the partnerships you could explore with others to crack a bigger problem. Pride, Education, Effort. That’s what matters in ESG storytelling. Peer to peer social selling fashion brand depop for example (in a category not known for sustainability) has taken the right ESG steps for it’s own business but importantly has looked beyond to educate it’s resellers too, paying it forward.
· Reinvent content. Don’t go the corporate style route that feels like an ad in sheep’s clothing. Good content is part of the buyer journey now, not an added extra, and if it lands with a journalistic (even documentary ) vibe, it will feel more open, honest, personal and educational. Think Lavazza’s coffee defenders film. Education, entertainment, editorial. The drivers for best in class content thinking.
· But think before you speak. Authentic doesn’t mean wrong or misjudged. And perception is reality if the blasé kicks in. Doesn’t it Brewdog? Or Wetherspoons? A bit more listening, a bit more prep and planning a story through. Don’t skimp the strategic imperative of the sense check, the choice of storyteller, or the context review. It isn’t an afterthought, it’s a parallel thought to everything else you are doing.
These all play the relevant-to-the-conversation card, work PR in its truest multi-channel sense (including landing the right coverage), and involve large swathes of listening, trust and matching consumer’s new needs from brands. Authentic. Genuine. Loyalty driving.
Because understanding beats awareness. And PR lands that in spades.