December 10th, 2008 by Lloyd Gofton
Social media and online PR have been the hot topics of discussion in the PR industry for some time, and the temperature is increasing as we approach 2009, which is seen by many to be the year of social media.
However, when it comes to offline or traditional PR, which is often wrongly labelled as simply media relations, the excitement dies and the level of conversation follows a similar downward spiral.
But why is this? Is traditional PR slowly dying? Are we moving online at such a rate that offline communications have become devalued? Put simply, no, that’s very far from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, at Liberate Media we’ve been talking about the benefits and necessity of online communications since our inception, and that hasn’t changed. But neither has our vision that online and offline are in fact the mechanisms through which we deliver good PR, not the definition itself.
So what happens when we blur the lines and combine offline and online PR? “Not a lot” I hear you say, “It’s hardly a revolutionary thought”. Very true, but how many case studies are you aware of that are combining the two areas successfully via a seamless strategy? Sure, many brands engage in both online and offline PR, many via separate agencies or specialists, but the links, although evident, are rarely maximised.
Let me give you an example. There have been instances in recent new business meetings where we’ve been informed that the PR to date has been handled offline by agency X and online by agency Y, and when we try to explain that Liberate Media offers a joint strategy, not one bolted onto the other, we are met with quizzical looks and a degree of disbelief.
So why is this? I think that we, the agencies, are mainly to blame. PR agencies that offer online, or social media consultancy, have usually differentiated this offering through their online or digital department/division/individual, making it appear as though they are specialists operating separately to give credence to their capabilities. Furthermore, there are also a growing number of specialists that do a great job of offering online consultancy but rarely offer traditional PR services as well.
So we’ve divided the two specialisms and that divide, we believe, should not exist. Not just because our company offers both services but because the customer journey may begin online or offline and switch between the two. So how do we engage communities effectively where ever they are, if not by meeting them of their own turf?
The simple truth is, at the moment we’re still taking a channel approach, ring-fencing online away from the rest of PR.
There is no real reason why the two shouldn’t co-exist and in fact aren’t better suited to co-exist through a purpose-built strategy, not two strategies coming together and then being revised to fit.
The fundamentals of good PR work equally well online as they do offline. The rules of open and honest two-way communications aren’t particularly new, but enforcing these rules through brand communications is.
So what I am asking is for is a shift in thinking: as we evolve PR and continue to develop new campaigns that encapsulate core business objectives, please don’t compartmentalise thinking into offline or online. Simply state your objectives and look to your agency/contacts/internal PR department to develop a clear through-the-line strategy.
Let’s break free from the online vs offline thinking trap now and avoid revisiting it in a year when the dye is cast. Let’s break free from the mistakes of the past, when we waited until the market as a whole was comfortable with seperate offerings before pulling together delivery. Instead, let’s embrace PR in all its forms and simply develop brand communications that engage our target communities at their point of interest.