Sorrell’s sideswipe at PR and gin-soaked lunches ignores the evolution
When Sir Martin Sorrell says digital natives see PR as press releases and gin-soaked lunches, people take note. But you’ve got to worry that he, and the digital natives he refers to, have been watching too much Absolutey Fabulous.
The reality is that there’s more demand for specialist PR services than ever. Those services extend well beyond press releases and have done for a long time. The pandemic has accelerated digital trends in many industries, including communications, with brands eager to engage audiences across platforms. Communications professionals are hustling through these changes. Oh, and boozy lunches were out of date way before the arrival of COVID-19.
During a crisis like this pandemic, communications people help brands navigate internal and external environments, which is why these comments are disappointing from someone of Sorrell’s standing.
Ironically, it seems the people charged with managing corporate reputation still have an image problem of their own. But as someone who has spent 25 years in comms, it surprises me that so many people still don’t understand the role we play and how the function has evolved.
With much uncertainty in the world right now, organisations are being forced to think deeply about what the future holds. Current events are shifting priorities. They’re reshaping culture, business, society and politics.
Sorrell is right that the ‘PR’ acronym still conjures up old-fashioned images, and we know the industry has struggled to properly define itself.
But there’s no doubt that digital has elevated the PR function, blurring the lines between communications disciplines and giving audiences more control, with the freedom to use a variety of channels to engage with organisations. We need to let our work do the talking for us.
Today modern communications go way beyond traditional corporation communications activities and encompasses brand marketing, content and digital strategy, content production, sales enablement, performance marketing, digital production, employee engagement and social engagement.
This set of capabilities has been growing as a result of digital transformation across agency and in-house disciplines. But the primary objective remains unchanged: effective communications between an organisation and its audiences that enable that organisation to be known, understood, trusted and ultimately believed in.
Sorrell’s comments question PR’s contribution to business outcomes. It’s true that measurement has all too often been the Achilles’ heel of the industry, with too much focus on output metrics when it comes to evaluating the impact of our work, especially earned media.
But our ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of communications is fast becoming much effective as data enables us to rethink how we design campaigns and show business impact. We’re using a range of exciting and new platforms that provide more credible data.
In my experience, without getting hung up on the name of the industry, we’re at our best when we’re running integrated campaigns that connect on an emotional and rational level to deliver organisational impact.
Let’s go. What do you think?