Has the modern definition of PR changed?
The head of M&C Saatchi Group SA’s new PR agency says the craft today is less about earning coverage than driving powerful conversations across media channels – and he is not big on finding ‘influencers’
Data and its accurate, timeous interpretation will be a key trend in driving successful public relations (PR) campaigns in 2020. It’s a philosophy Dustin Chick, managing partner of Razor — M&C Saatchi Group SA’s new PR agency — is taking to heart.
Chick (formerly with Ogilvy PR) has been tasked with forming this new operating unit, which has been the missing link in the business. Technology, he says, is a positive force for change.
"In creating and amplifying powerful conversations, we are able to use technology to create scale and relevance," he says.
Scale, he adds, can cost-effectively "support the reach of our story and the impact of the various formats of content we create, but also how we use technology to define what makes these stories powerful and to define and segment the audiences where we have the most impact."
Technology, he says, unlocks creativity and creates opportunities to develop or own platforms that support engagement — a view shared by leading PR professionals worldwide.
Jason Falls, director of digital and social strategy at Cornett, a US agency, says the overarching trend in PR in recent years is how data is affecting the field.
Falls says: "We need big data because the media landscape has exploded and fractionalised exponentially and, as a result, audiences are smaller and more concentrated."
Chick tells the FM the launch of Razor creates a natural complement to what the group already does in understanding that in an integrated world, agencies must offer a full suite of solutions to meet the needs of the companies, brands and products.
He says PR in 2020 is less about earning coverage than driving pervasive, powerful conversations. Razor will focus on how it is influential across media channels and not specifically on finding "influencers".
Influencers aren’t always that influential, so Razor’s focus on powerful conversations means it has to choose the channels where it wants to have conversations, the story it tells, the content it produces, and the people or groups it targets in creating advocacy.
How, then, has the modern definition of PR changed — is it about storytelling or shaping image? It’s both, says Chick. "PR at its heart remains the ability to create relevant stories. What’s changed is the blend between earned, owned, paid and shared ways to tell the story."
At its core, though, PR is "still about shaping image, and shaping it in a way that is honest, builds trust and drives advocacy".
Chick concedes that the industry continues to grapple with the notion of return on campaign investment. "Our biggest challenge is we are trying to create new measurements for old ways of doing things ... to measure things that have impact on the business or product." These include measuring conversation impact that changes a specific or defined behaviour or outcome; conversation that builds trust; and conversation that drives performance — from an increase in share price to an impact on sales.
Chick also warns that PR agencies need to think twice about abandoning a concept called advertising value equivalent, which essentially gives a premium to editorial coverage based on the cost of space that might have been taken up by an ad.
"If the industry is going to kick the habit we need to put new and impactful measurements on the table," he says.