By UCHE AJENE AYERE – STEPHANIE JOHN & ASSOCIATES
In the past, Public Relations would simply mean the use of communication to persuade publics. Essentially, this was a one-way channel involving the organization informing the public. In today’s digital world however, Public Relations is now a two-way communication system, as the role of the consumer is ever more increasing and their covert and overt nuances shape brand communications.
Interestingly, before the 2000s, media consumption habits remained virtually unchanged. People got their news and entertainment from the TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and other traditional forms of media. But then the internet and tech boom happened, and within a few years, People could stream music, videos, and movies from the comfort of their homes. Soon, people, especially millennials, were ditching old and traditional methods, giving rise to the cord-cutting generation.
This shift in media consumption has affected many allied industries. This meant that organizations and brands needed to move with the times and adjust their communications approach and channels. For instance, marketing strategies used to include platforms like text messaging, Radio and TVs as the main ad platforms. However, with changing media consumption habits, marketers have had to rethink their content creation strategies to include platforms like Facebook and Instagram that didn’t exist a couple of years ago. This fast pace of innovation and digitization has changed the game in the Public Relations Industry.
We live in one of the most creative times in the media and communications industry. This is not surprising because the media currently sits at the intersection of people, technology and marketing. Hence, the reason professionals in the PR industry are constantly on their toes; mastering the critical skill of creativity. In recent years, the Nigerian media market has earned a reputation as one of the fastest-growing in Africa. But the existence of market gaps in the industry has led to an increase in the need for continuous problem solving; which revolves solely around creative insights in order to find suitable solutions to these gaps.
Although the PR industry in Nigeria has grown over the years, as it is commonplace to hear industry professionals talk about ‘disruption’; simply put, you either disrupt or be disrupted.
Agencies must lead the charge in coming up with creative solutions to meet clients’ ROI and consumers’ ever-changing needs. There are still challenges to overcome and gaps to cover when it comes to creativity in the industry. Creativity in the Public Relations industry is all about challenging the status quo and value creation for clients.
PR INDUSTRY CREATIVITY BOOSTERS
Client Value Orientation:
In light of current global realities where budgets are being cut, the marketing department budget is always first slashed. ROI becomes paramount to marketing executives. I do not know one marketing executive that isn’t seeking value. Creativity must be employed because gone are the days when clients just want to amplify their communication. The truth is that clients have certain needs in mind when they embark on any PR campaign. It is the task of the PR professional to figure this out and help in achieving same.
In my company, I always try to encourage clients that we do a baseline audit to first understand the sentiments of people about the brand or product, that way with any campaign we do, we are able to know if we are layering on those particular feelings or if we are eroding those feelings.This means that we have to gather some form of data through research. Driving a campaign without having data is like going into battle with blindfolds on.
Bearing in mind that the client is thinking in terms of ROI, I usually start with defining what my KPI’s are at the beginning of a campaign. And then at the end of a campaign I evaluate and make sure that we’re able to achieve it and if for whatever reason we’re not able to achieve it, I evaluate to see what those variances are and why. Agencies must do more creatively as the market seems to be shrinking for PR, but by being client value-oriented, tons of opportunities abound.
Corporate Strategy Alignment:
It’s a common barrier we see in businesses of all types: silos between departments. Teams aren’t connected, and as a result, they’re all working to achieve separate goals. But when separate divisions – PR, Marketing, Sales and Business Development – align their strategies, the results are much more rewarding.
As an Agency, corporate strategy alignment is very important because without it, you are communicating without understanding how your communication impacts or aligns with the clients’ corporate strategy. What are the long and short term business needs of the client? Is the client sales and profit-driven, or looking to court investors, or build equity? Evaluating these objectives and prioritizing them will strongly inform your outreach strategy with core areas of focus. Agencies can use this information to get the brand name in front of a target audience of buyers and on investors’ radars.
Specialization is essential, and frankly speaking, a real competitive advantage for both the PR firm and its clients. The benefits of specialization are obvious. Clients benefit by virtue of specialized service and added value through insights and suggestions. We, like some other professional consultancy firms, decided at inception to be a niche-based firm and have maintained our commitment to this decision. It’s been our strength in an otherwise uncertain economic environment because our target audience demands as much value out of their professional advisors as possible.
By virtue of serving many organizations and individuals engaged within the same industry, we see their business systems and controls, planning activities, financial and operational metrics, leadership styles, IT infrastructure, cash management, management reporting and many other business-related nuances that allow them to compete within their industry.
This brings a lot of value to our clients in the niches that we serve, which is dominantly the financial sector. At Stephanie John’, although we work with several brands, our key operations are in financial services. This clearly informs our recruitment processes as we constantly recruit talents that are well-grounded in the industry. This is the creativity we bring to our practice of PR. As PR practitioners, we cannot keep offering ‘One size fits all’ solutions to our Clients. We must be able to think beyond the bottom-line and identify with the Client to proffer solutions that can resonate with them and their target market.
To summarize this point, you would only go to an ophthalmologist to take care of your eyes, right? Then it stands to reason that using a PR firm that specializes in the industry that your business lives and breaths in would make the most sense. Why entrust the well-being of your business with anyone else?
Finally, to enhance creativity in the PR industry, the industry must learn to listen. You need to listen to what your client wants; you must listen to what the customer wants, and you should listen to what other practitioners are doing globally. This way you’ll stay ahead of the curve, with the ability to properly articulate ideas, concepts and campaigns that align with your message and clearly pass your message across to your target audience.
Creativity is in itself a PR currency, since it’s the x-factor that can boost the inherent value of any campaign tactic. Some say it cannot be taught, but I disagree. The more you exercise those creative muscles, the stronger they become. Creative concepts are by definition outliers, so they may take a leap of faith. Small steps lead to larger strides and big ideas.