Aug 18, 2022 - Economy & Business

The future of public relations

Illustration of a microphone stand and base with the top mouthpiece replaced with a lightbulb

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Public relations isn't what it used to be, with social media, nontraditional publications and the influencer movement upending the traditional platforms of print, TV and radio.

Why it matters: An effective PR campaign sits at the intersection of strategy and creativity, with earned, paid and owned media working hand in hand to meet audiences where they are.

What they’re saying: People are getting their information from a variety of sources and across a variety of platforms, according to Todd Ringler, U.S. managing director of media at Edelman.

  • “It’s no longer a given that any traditional outlet is going to deliver you the audiences you’re after. In some cases, the 'who' you’re looking for is operating and active in completely different channels,” Ringler says.

Understanding the fractured audience is part of the learning curve, says Ephraim Cohen, global managing director of Media + Platforms at Fleishman Hillard.

  • “The purpose of PR is to get the right information into people's hands at the right time in the right way,” he told Axios.
  • Cohen pointed to political campaigns as offering "some of the most strategic and most disciplined PR campaigns.”

That’s because the good ones are willing to take risks to engage a wide range of people, says political strategist Lis Smith.

  • “You're creating a beautiful tapestry of top outlets, local media and nontraditional publications like TMZ Live or Barstool because that's how you expand your reach," Smith said. “The idea that you would leave these things on the table because they're not “presidential” is absolute lunacy to me."

Zoom out: Brands can take this outreach a step further by experimenting with the creator economy — and media companies are bringing influencers under the umbrella of journalism to accommodate this market.

  • Most recently, Morning Brew launched a creator program that allows independent personalities to work for the company full time while maintaining separate products and brands.
  • Through influencer journalism, brands can get two bites of the apple with hits across social media and news platforms.
  • “Media companies are forming their own network of influencers,” Cohen says. “And we’ve partnered on a paid basis with the media companies to provide editorial direction for the influencer. ... So you're striking a really interesting balance between paid, disclosed and earned — and certainly the reach extends beyond pure earned media.”

Zoom in: It’s an interesting strategy for engaging with teens, who nearly all (97%) say they use the internet daily on video apps like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat.

  • Audience analytics like this prove that "traditional and nontraditional channels are part of a larger ecosystem that’s no longer just one or the other — they operate in tandem," says Ringler.

Case in point: DoorDash recently partnered with influencer and artist Chlöe Bailey on a limited edition “Make 'Em Sweat” hot sauce.

  • Instead of announcing the collaboration through a traditional media exclusive or press release, Edelman had Bailey break the news on social media, because that’s where the target audience would look and engage first.
  • The buzz Bailey and DoorDash generated across social media led to coverage from traditional outlets as well.

What we’re watching: The metaverse might be the next place to experiment, as today's teens seamlessly blend their real-world lives with their virtual experiences.

  • This sentiment is captured in a viral video of Keanu Reeves explaining the plot of "The Matrix" to a teenager. According to Reeves, the teen didn't care what was real and what was virtual.

The bottom line: Reaching people is hard and audience habits are super scattered, which means PR professionals need to do more on the backend to effectively — and creatively— engage them.

💭Our thought bubble: For now, publicity in the metaverse seems like a shiny object — but if you have an audience there, go for it. After all, your media efforts should go where they are.

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