How tech is impacting the public relations playbook

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Fiona Fraser

It wasn’t that long ago that public relations consultants – or PRs, as they’re known colloquially – could rely on the print/radio/television trifecta to achieve coverage objectives for a client. But in an increasingly fast-moving media environment, PRs have had to adapt, and engage in new ways of thinking.

Charlene White’s been running hugely popular digital PR workshops since late 2019, upskilling communications and public relations practitioners in the programmes, platforms and skills they need to build awareness for the businesses they work with. What’s her number one tip?

“PRs need to understand SEO,” she begins. “It’s no longer just about creating awareness in a moment – it’s about the value you’re providing long after a publicity campaign has rolled out and attracted that initial hype. PRs need to know how the internet works and the journey people go on. Search needs to be part of the mix.”

She advocates for PR consultants getting deeply involved in a brand’s Google Analytics to understand the behaviours of the audience they’re reaching – and they should tap into Google Ad Words, Trends and Search Console as well.  “Meanwhile, brands need to treat their website like a living, breathing organism and feed it good quality content.”

Charlene’s business, Digi PR, helps clients understand how to capture an audience’s attention in both “browse mode” – casually checking out what’s happening on the web or on social – and “search mode” – which is when someone is actively researching a product or service.

Charlene White

Charlene White, Digi PR

She says there are useful tools – some freely available – to help a PR net an audience in search mode. “Brands need to be visible in search, using the key words that represent their brand or service. Answer The Public is one tool that can quickly give you an idea of the sorts of things people are searching for – and you build your content around that.”

Amanda Vaisigano agrees. “Something I say to my clients now is that it’s no longer about just communicating a message with your audience, it’s about having a conversation.” Amanda is a public relations adviser and mentor who says the advent of digital technology means PRs simply must change the way they operate. Gone are the days when Kiwis stopped what they were doing to watch the 6pm news. “Instead they are scrolling on their phones, accessing news on demand.  So it makes sense to offer an integrated approach to clients and to find out where their audiences hang out and consume their content. It’s about achieving a balanced mix of digital, social media and PR.”

For Amanda and her business Publicity Studio, guest blogs and podcasts are increasingly becoming part of that mix. “Podcasts, particularly, are currently a thriving tactic for PR outreach. They’re the holy grail of portable information – you can listen while you’re multitasking and they’re so valuable for brands when speaking to key audiences. Blogs have been around for quite some time but for that 18-34 year-old audience that craves on-demand binge-style consumption, blogs will continue to strengthen.”

Influencer activity can also find a place in the PR’s playbook. Charlene says brands need to align themselves with influencers that add value and “feel right” and says nano-influencers – those with under 5,000 followers and focused on very specific topics or causes – are an interesting space for brands to explore.

Amanda Vaisigano

Amanda Vaisigano, Publicity Studio

But while both Charlene and Amanda are huge proponents of PRs putting digital firmly in the mix, they each believe traditional media – magazine features, radio interviews, or an appearance on Seven Sharp – will always hold value. “Consumers continue to have such a lot of faith in the press,” says Amanda. “I think if you nail both traditional and digital PR, you’re in a really good position.”

And, both Charlene and Amanda recommend PRs reconsider how they report and measure the impact of their work. “It’s not just about media column inches and sentiment alone, anymore,” says Charlene. “Google Analytics can show clients exactly what people are doing with their work. And there is a tool called The Communication Dividend which is a dashboard stacked with analytics to measure campaigns.”

Amanda says increasing a brand’s domain authority – and measuring that – is another way of proving a campaign’s worth.   “It makes sense for a brand to build strong relationships with other sites, gain those good quality backlinks and increase their page views and their social shares.”

Even press releases are changing – for the better. Amanda says her press releases in 2020 are very different to those she was writing five years ago. “I’m always thinking about key terms, and Googleable titles to boost visibility online.”

With augmented and virtual reality only just around the corner, how might PR change again in the coming years? It’s hard to know, but Charlene says brands will need to continue to build an omnipresence, considering their entire digital footprint and nurturing their reputation online. She says video still has room to grow – 60% of the internet is video right now, and that will climb – and that public relations consultants should challenge clients to consider new ways of thinking.

“Old style media launches are stale,” she says. “Tell the story, be creative, do things differently.”

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Fiona Fraser

Fiona Fraser spent 18 years as a journalist and editor before founding Contentment Agency, her content and public relations business. From first getting behind a radio sound desk as a teenager, to thrashing podcasts as an adult, she appreciates the myriad ways tech can enhance communication and connection.

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