I like to think of advertising and public relations as cousins, perhaps cousins who don’t enjoy each other’s company much. As the years have passed, the roles have changed. Traditional advertising has become unfit and unattractive, while its younger, energetic cousin has done a lot of growing up. There are three main factors transforming the public relations industry and shaping the path it’s on.
Active Customers and an Intention Economy
(See Doc Searls’ The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge)
This is in contrast to what we’ve dealt with until now, passive customers and an attention economy. Simply put, in an attention economy advertisers competed for the attention of passive customers to find out what they wanted and were willing to pay. In an intention economy, the direction we’re headed, customers tell us what they want and are willing to pay. Then, playing by their rules, we compete for their business.
This is changing the way businesses interact with customers. It’s shifting the focus from advertising to maintaining a positive public image by engaging customers and allowing them to be brand evangelists. If that relationship isn’t properly handled, and they become the opposite, it can bring a powerful company to its knees in a matter of days.
Measuring ROI has always been a major criticism of the PR industry, because this is how the conversation usually goes.
- “How do we calculate our return on investment?”
- Answer 1: “You can’t.”
- Answer 2: “See that one line quote we got you in the Wall Street Journal? The value of that placement is equivalent to a half-page advertisement.”
In a digital world, this is no longer true. Results are measurable. Agencies can be held accountable. They now have the capabilities to measure website traffic, views, followers, likes, favorites, shares, conversions, sales and new customers. Cross-industry metrics or “we can’t” are no longer acceptable answers (not that they ever were).
I often say tell people that every business, big or small, voluntarily or involuntarily, has a relationship with the pubic. More and more businesses are realizing this. As public relations becomes a necessary part of every business, with a huge amount of small businesses looking for affordable plans, we’ll see an explosion in the number of small to medium sized agencies.