PR needs to rethink the meaning of ‘earn’

PR is no longer about press releases and a little black book, explains Poem's Rob Lowe. And to go further and be better, the industry needs to reimagine how PR defines 'earn'.

For too long, PR has been seen as the discipline that earns ‘free media’ and we’ve been measured against how much editorial media we can earn. But this needs to change. PR has the opportunity to do more.

Instead, we need to foster the idea that PR is best suited to help brands earn consumer choice. Only by doing this will we give PR a more senior seat at the C suite table.

Consumer PR is no longer about press releases, press conferences and photo calls. It can’t just be about a little black book and media relationships. It’s not a publicity bureau.

Likewise, social isn’t about creating content calendars with regular posts. Metrics around earned OTS (opportunity to see), number of editorial articles and post impressions are utterly pointless, unless what the content is saying is able to earn the attention of consumers and influence their behaviour.

PR needs to refocus on what earning means

Instead of brainstorming tactics that earn editorial coverage, agencies need to focus more on ideas that help brands earn a place in people’s lives, because the right idea will then generate its own coverage as a bi-product.

It’s a subtle shift in approach and thinking.

We need to put the consumer first and ask ‘Why will someone care, what is this adding to their lives and what’s the emotional reason behind why they’d buy this?’, before then looking at the channel and tactics involved in driving awareness of whatever we decide to do.

It takes a greater level of strategy and creativity, but above all else, human psychology and insights into people’s emotions and motivations too.

To influence human behaviour, you need to earn the right

The truth is, humans don’t act rationally. The purchase cycle is not a diagram. We all operate on basic instincts that have been hardwired into our brains throughout evolution – the need for safety, belonging and reproduction.

These base instincts influence our every decision, unconsciously or not. Almost every brand purchase decision we make is due to a ‘heuristic’ bias or evolutionary driven need such as ‘signalling’ our wealth, conscientiousness or physical health (you can read a great article on this by PwC behavioural economist, Jason Collins, here).

Understanding all this is key to earning brands a place in people’s lives.

Using myself as an example:

Q. Why do I post pictures of trail runs on my Instagram feed for others to see?
A: Because, unconsciously, I want to be seen as an achiever and physically fit.

Q. Why do I try new vegan alternative meat products?
A: Because I want to be seen by others as conscientious and caring for the environment.

Q. Why do I choose clothes, a beard or hairstyle similar to my friends or colleagues?
A: Because I want to fit in or be seen as creative or business-like.

Almost every decision we make is either a conscious ‘signal’ to the world about our status or an unconscious effort to increase our status, safety and attractiveness. Given the new globally and personally connected power we’ve all been given by the Internet, we can now ‘signal’ whatever we want to the world (whether it be the truth or not). And that also goes for what product or brand we choose to buy.

When you break it down, it makes us all sound base and animalistic, but it’s the truth. And it’s not bad. It’s actually very human.

It’s an opportunity for PR

PR thinking lends itself well to this earned approach. We’ve traditionally never used media to broadcast messages and have had to earn a place in editorial. It’s only a short step for us to ask how we can earn a place in people’s lives instead of earning editorial media. The smartest, most modern PR agencies are already thinking like this; they’ve been doing this for a number of years and are starting to gain real momentum, helping to push PR higher up the marketing priority list by producing more strategic, creative and effective work that makes people feel something about a brand.

With the right ‘earned idea’ we should also be thinking about how this can be amplified via paid, owned and earned media channels. It will naturally drive exponentially better results, because it goes beyond what you can pay for in terms of impressions.

And that’s the future and opportunity of PR: earned creativity and ideas that earn brands a place in peoples’ lives.

Rob Lowe is managing director and co-founder of Poem

Poem’s co-founder and ECD Matt Holmes will be speaking about whether PR should be focused on earning media or earning consumer choice at Mumbrella’s CommsCon on 2 April. You can purchase tickets here. 


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