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Five Reasons Why Business Leaders Are Relying on Public Relations in 2018


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Deirdre Breakenridge Headshot

"Classic PR is not going anywhere," said Stephanie Smirnov , Managing Director of Brand Practice at Edelman , during a recent interview . Stephanie says that she often stands on her soapbox, reminding colleagues how they still need to bring an earned media mindset to the table, especially when they're trying to earn attention and coverage. "[PR] may look different in 2018 … digital is just how we live and communicate," she adds.

We can also look at the numbers to see that the practice of public relations is not going anywhere; the growth of the global PR industry has rebounded according to Arun Sudhaman of The Holmes Report. His article , "Global PR Industry Now Worth $15B as Growth Rebounds to 7% in 2016," provides a look at the strong performance of the world's top 250 global firms.

With industry growth in mind and the need for new, relevant skills, business leaders are relying on PR to help them successfully navigate their organizations through a climate of changing media, shifting consumer behavior and technological advances. Here are five reasons why:

1.  E arned Media Takes its Rightful Place . There's a lot of talk about the PESO model of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media. However, building relationships that lead to significant earned coverage is still top of mind for business leaders who understand that good coverage lends hand to credibility and building public confidence. Capturing positive sentiment is what makes earned media so powerful―It's not what I say; it's what others say, think, and feel. With so many voices online and in social media communities, the opportunity for earned media has undoubtedly expanded.

Business leaders recognize how earned media coverage can also come from trusted influencers, social media peers and their own customer champions. Customers can be your best advocates when you're exceeding their expectations and providing them with the best experiences.

2. Brand Health and Reputation Matter . Are there executives who don't have reputation and brand health on their minds? Every communication, at every touchpoint, affects how the public views a brand, and building, maintaining and protecting a brand's reputation has always been in PR's wheelhouse. PR pros are often referred to as The Brand Police for their work in reputation management, their efforts to preserve the health of the brand and to keep the public "cup of goodwill" full. In his book , "The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis", Fred Garcia said "It is much harder to restore trust that has been lost than to preserve it in the first place." If business leaders want a dedicated team to preserve trust in their brand, then PR will be a big part of their focus in 2018.

3. Ethics Are Top of Mind . New technology can heighten consumer concerns and fears. For example, according to a J.D. Power study , most generations fear self-driving technology. But if you think back 20 or 30 years, there were concerns in the 1980s when fax machines became popular in the U.S., and later when email was the new technology, about the use of these new communications tools. Do you remember any of your colleagues in the 1990s questioning whether or not email should be for everyone in the company? The response, in some circles, was that it should only be for senior leadership. The type of technology often isn't what matters; it's the change it brings, how it's used and the level of transparency involved in using it.

Today's business leaders can rely on their PR teams to apply an ethical approach to Artificial Intelligence. As AI is used increasingly in marketing and customer service, leaders need to ensure it's used to build trust, its identity is not concealed and the technology is helpful to consumers. If you thought social media challenged ethical communication, AI and other new technologies are pushing the envelope even further. Business leaders will look to PR and communication professionals who can be the voice of reason in the room and those who practice communications with a conscience.

4. Good Storytelling Cuts through the Clutter . Connecting PR and good storytelling is easy. PR can bring the credibility factor and knows that PR storytelling should come from an objective point of view. Business leaders rely on PR professionals to guide them on why a story will or will not work, once again serving as the voice of reason. Today's public relations professionals are marrying the creative art of storytelling with data intelligence to back up why a story needs to be told. They also have a good idea of how the public will respond based on their data intelligence. PR continues to sharpen its social media listening skills, understanding how people rally around stories that lead to increased brand awareness. PR pros also know how to optimize stories and content for greater engagement that can lead to increased sales and customer advocacy.

5. You're One Step Away from Crisis Communications . Years ago, crisis was reserved for specific industries. If you took an in-house position in a hotel or restaurant chain, or perhaps the travel industry, then you were likely signing up for a job in crisis communications. Today, any company can experience crisis, and it's one step closer to you than you think. The Internet prompted crisis preparedness when news cycles shortened, and as people complained and shared negative experiences online, 24/7. With the arrival of social media, PR had to rethink the crisis players, channels, messaging and monitoring and how they handled crisis communications through all media.

Business leaders understand that social media can build up a brand quickly and tear it down within minutes. A crisis playbook has to include scenarios you may not have imagined previously and with a very involved public sharing the news and their views about an unfolding situation. PR professionals are becoming Pre-Crisis Doctors , changing the playbook and working internally to prepare for crisis communications with a different lens. Business leaders can feel a sense of relief, though, as their teams use technology to simulate crisis scenarios. At the same time, they also know how to monitor conditions, and communicate important information as these scenarios unfold in real time.

For any business leader, there is comfort in knowing that PR teams are ready to handle a myriad of communications and situations that will put their skills and practice to good use. PR is here to stay; no matter how the industry changes, the media landscape expands, technology advances and consumers become increasingly more vocal and demanding.

Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications . She is an international speaker and trainer, podcaster , LinkedIn Learning instructor and an adjunct professor and online instructor at UMass Amherst and Rutgers University. Her most recent book is Answers for Modern Communicators, A Business Guide to Communication .

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