PR consolidates role as brand storyteller and defender of reputation (study)

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PR owns brand storytelling (Source: Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash.com)

The UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) recently unveiled its survey of practitioners into the digital skills in the market and clients’ attitudes to digital services. It’s no surprise to learn that digital services are in flux, but what is interesting is where that investment is focused.

I’m a member of the PRCA, the communications industry trade body. In my capacity on its Digital Group, I have been going around the UK recently discussing the findings of its annual Digital PR Report with members of the communications industry.

What’s abundantly clear after more than a decade of providing digital and social media services to clients, that PR is finally finding its natural place as defender of reputation and storyteller-in-chief for brands. But there remain areas where PR really should be competing for budget, such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Natural storytellers

Some may feel “storytelling” is an overused term, but in this context as the communicator of the brand message. PR is being trusted with brands’ online content over other providers, such as social media agencies and dedicated content houses.

Text-based services outsourced to agencies are up 7% in the last year, video-based content is up 10%, and image-based content services, such as social media content, is up 5%. Small, but steady increments. Four in five (79%) agencies now offer online text-based content as a service.

Why is PR winning this business? Because PR agencies ‘own’ the entire content process, from understanding messaging and having the skills to craft engaging, on-brand content, nurturing the relationships to seed brand content in target media, and the analytics skills to assess business impact.

The fact that PR agencies have strong media relations contacts is also behind why 56% of brands outsource social influencer outreach to their PR consultancy. While we observe a rise in content services outsourced to agencies, budgets are being pulled from community management and social media monitoring - faculties that are often brought in-house – and website build.

Defenders of reputation

PR professionals have reported a marked 9% rise in the number of clients not using social media more often (or at all) because they fear online attacks from campaigners and/or trolls. This means 12% of brands now avoid engaging on social media. Happily, 88% are still engaging.

Just more than half (51%) of brands turn to their PR agency to manage their online reputation and the same amount refers to their PR agency for digital crisis management.

Integrate your teams

At our recent industry meet-up in Bristol, I asked the floor how many had access to their clients’ Google Analytics accounts. Just half put their hands up. That’s progress on previous years, speaking anecdotally, but still, PRs and their clients need to work more closely as integrated teams to share data that will enable PRs to their job more effectively.

So, if you’re a client-side PR or marketing manager and you’re yet to share your website data with your comms teams, you’ll see far more effective results in the long term if you do.

Get good at SEO

PR still needs to get a grip on SEO. It’s still a huge missed opportunity. For some years now, Google’s ranking algorithm, which determines what websites rank highest, has used inbound links and content quality as two key factors. Earning links through media relations and, as we see above, content creation are PRs core strengths, so agencies just need to understand search marketing better to provide SEO services. This is reflected in the PRCA Digital PR Report, with SEO being the top training requirement for PR agencies.

The good news for PR agencies is that more than half (55%) of in-house comms leaders expect their budgets to rise in the next year, so the business is out there.

The ball is in play, PR agencies just need to seize it.