I’ve never understood why PR has been considered marketing’s second cousin. I suppose the only rationale I can give is because PR is more of a strategic marketing marathon than a sprint, more difficult to measure and taking longer to show ROI. But its value is so much greater than any solely marketing program and for the first time in my 20-year PR career, the COVID-19 pandemic has finally revealed this. PR became the discipline our clients could not switch off, and where we gained more clients all seeking to tell a story. So why did PR shine brighter and why has it continued this way 6 months on?
Educating vs Selling
This is my main reason for loving the PR discipline as a strategic marketing initiative, as I hate a hard sell. Google ad words, PPC, and social advertising are blatantly in-your-face about getting pushing a purchase, but during a pandemic in which everyone is nervous about their health, safety and livelihood, who really wants to be told that they should buy a new mental health app and monitor their anxiety levels? What I believe people want is more knowledge about a particular issue, the chance to read about a solution written from an independent journalist’s perspective rather than the company. And with 50% of consumers spending more time consuming content than ever before (Arlington Research, 2020), attention to thought leadership articles is at its highest. At MFG, we gained so many PR enquiries and new strategic marketing projects for this very reason: PR is the most respectful way to convey a story, educate on a solution and ultimately build brand awareness. In fact, as digital marketing programs were over analyzed and scrutinized, PR became the golden child.
Actions Speak Louder
So, while COVID-19 has been devastating for many reasons, I think we have all heard ourselves say that some good has come out of it. In particular, many brands chose to take action and help the community — whether that was from making masks, creating space for hospital beds or even providing free educational content to subscribers. These actions go a long way to show a company’s true brand values and what constitutes corporate social responsibility and community engagement. These forms of action are part of strategic marketing and PR. You might not write them down and issue them in a press release or pitch to the media, but your blogs, photos, social engagement all make up your PR story and are a powerful brand representation.
We have many B2B technology clients who are level 2 and 3 suppliers to global brands, meaning that their past PR efforts before COVID-19 were more byline-focused and aimed at trade media. But when the media are pulling together stories that directly impact the end user, these tier 2 and 3 suppliers became very important at keeping the economy’s lights on. Strategic marketing and PR became a great platform to showcase supply chain advancements, PEO/HR COVID support, new contactless solutions, etc. And it wasn’t just the industry press that took notice, but national too. Our clients took center stage coverage on a national level because their innovative approach to keeping the economy moving meant they were serving the community at large and making a major difference. Can you imagine how lackluster and under recognized these stories could have become if PR hadn’t been the selected platform for strategic marketing?
PR is the only way to really tell a story with depth, emotion and positive outcomes. Other marketing disciplines lose these qualities and are regarded as self-serving and promotional. I believe PR has finally proven its ultimate value as the foundation of strategic marketing initiatives and attached itself to the meaningful storytelling to which we all strive. What examples of storytelling have made you recognize the power of PR in 2020?