Bob Pickard
Feb 12, 2014

PR firms: Stop being timid and claim what's yours

Other players are imitating PR approaches and capturing business. It's time for PR to get its act together.

Bob Pickard
Bob Pickard

In recent years, many companies have been understandably confused about how to categorize and allocate budget resources among what were formerly clearly demarcated marketing disciplines. Social media on mobile has suddenly torn down the walls between these old disciplines. While this has been going on, there is a lot of talk about how PR is barely holding its own as other players tread on what has traditionally been our ‘turf.’

So during 2014, the PR industry needs to get its act together and become more disruptive in articulating the strength of what should be a much more compelling offer in the new chaotic and competitive environment. Other players are imitating and amplifying the rhetoric and approaches traditionally associated with public relations and, in so doing, confiscating commerce from the PR sector.

Global management consulting and law firms—not to mention advertising firms beefing-up their PR divisions—are now getting into our space with gusto because they understand the commercial potential and can see with their own eyes how the PR industry has been growing driven by digital.

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Actually public relations enjoys a higher profile and is better understood than ever before. PR has actually become such an aggressive and vivid concept in the public mind, perceived to be more important and interesting than ever: 'PR war'” 'PR battle', 'PR blitz', 'PR spectacle', etc. It’s almost as if PR is now seen as a mighty secret weapon to be used to defeat one’s enemies.

You would never know it though judging by how some in the industry are acting so timid when we should be projecting confidence as never before. Running away from the ‘PR’ label, some agencies have chosen to demarcate digital as somehow being distinct from public relations—whereas I think PR is very much at the heart of it.

Now here in Asia, public relations has traditionally been a relatively minor and subordinate part of marketing, but even with PR’s development challenges, even in this region it increasingly commands a rising respect.

Hundreds of rising Asian multinationals outgrowing their home markets are going to become world famous while communicating corporate narratives through social media. Telling the digital stories of these companies is the most challenging and exciting marketing work to be done in the world today. To prosper during the rise of Asia, PR firms must be on the front lines of these assignments, which often start by getting our foot in the door with traditional media relations and upselling from there.

Media relations will always be a key part of PR, but now creating content, building communities, understanding analytics and applying the psychology of persuasion are all part of the picture. It’s worth keeping in mind that PR and media relations are not synonymous; however, many of the image-making skills that create winning conditions for earning publicity are also key to success in creating communities, engaging stakeholders, and earning content sharing interactions within and among online constituencies.

Because public relations is in its essence a social networking business, it is well positioned to thrive in the digital domain, especially in a region where mobile is a new marketing battleground. The important thing for corporate communicators to emphasize is how PR will always be about the art of relationships, but increasingly it is a measurable evidence-based communications science.

That’s a tremendous opportunity for PR; in 2014 and beyond, especially the Asian clients want to see tangible evidence of how their PR campaigns are influencing opinions and inspiring new patterns of behaviour. 

Bob Pickard is Asia-Pacific chairman of Huntsworth.


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