This is PR’s Moneyball Moment

By Nikki Wright

I recently attended the international #PRovoke18 conference in Washington DC held at the iconic Watergate Hotel and hosted by The Holmes Report, the authoritative voice of the global public relations industry. Attended by over 350 international senior PR practitioners the conference left me inspired and confident about PR’s place in the world right now. The clear outtake from two days of influential speeches is this is PR's moneyball moment.

We heard from major marketers that half of all advertising dollars are wasted. We know PR is much more cost-effective but, more than that, CEOs are becoming brand spokespeople. Since PR practitioners are already working closely with the CEO on reputation management, we're well positioned. It feels like the spotlight is on PR to see what role we can play.

Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, widely viewed as the world's most influential brand leader, delivered the opening keynote on why the PR industry's time has come. He believes mass marketing is being disrupted and PR can accelerate that disruption. It's high time for the PR industry to come together to innovate on measurement systems.

And that's the key, isn't it. How we measure PR's impact matters more now than ever before. We need to link our efforts to reputational scorecards.  But we also need to find a way to impress the sales team.

If we're truly going to capitalise on this moment in time, we have to be able to prove PR's impact.

Pritchard offered some great insight into the mind of a brand owner by detailing the ways Procter & Gamble is attempting to reinvent its approach to media, advertising, agency partnerships and citizenship, getting brands to become what he called "a force for good and a force for growth."

"Today Gen Z, Millennials, and even Boomers want to know what brands believe in, the people behind them, their values, and points of view on relevant issues like equality and the environment," Pritchard said, "And they make choices based on others advocating for a brand - not a paid sales pitch."

Four areas where his company is tackling issues that major companies might have traditionally shied away from are gender equality, racial equality, LGBTQ inclusion and sustainability.

Pritchard says to take advantage of disruptive forces sweeping the traditional marketing industry, our PR industry needs to take four actions:

1. Innovate on data and analytics to achieve mass word of mouth on a one-to-one basis.

2. Innovate on measurement to get visibility on who's being reached.

3. Innovate on content and work through influencers.

4. Join forces to be a force for good and a force for growth.

While traditional advertising declines, we see the rise of digital media and e-commerce. Doing less 'push' advertising has led to more 'pull influencing' through 'talkable content.'

"We're imagining a world with zero ads - instead, building partnerships with professional content creators to drive engaging experiences with consumers," Pritchard noted.

PR Done Differently In the US

I observed some differences between Kiwi and American PR that were quite stark.  We're quite conservative by comparison and too eager to please everybody.  Americans can be brash and pumped up and I can tell you now that their approach to public relations is no different.  What really grabbed me though is how advanced they are at understanding the human psyche and truly connecting brand communications to purpose.

In New Zealand we see brands buddying up to charities and leveraging cause-related days, weeks and months to promote their good deeds. But in the US, they're thinking long-term, not just short awareness. One feminine hygiene brand called Always, for example, picked up on the phrase 'Always #Like a girl.' They turned that phrase around to empower girls going through puberty to encourage them to stick with sports and not put societal limits on themselves. It links back to their core purpose to always empower women to live life without limits through trusted feminine hygiene products and puberty education. It's a force for good which contributes to sales growth.

The US style of many PR practitioners often seems to be about being provocative in the interest of satisfying a core audience, I noted - in particular, a Nike 'Just Do It' campaign using Colin Kaepernick which raised sales 31% amongst core customers while alienating many others.

It just goes to show if you know your audience, you can get away with a lot.

Wright Communications is frequently called upon for Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy development and sustainable storytelling for clients so presentations about the alignment of brands around purpose for 'brand-standing' was intriguing.

Another brand taking a stand on an issue that directly relates to its core purpose is outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. Against a backdrop of media coverage reporting on the US Government's voter suppression tactics Patagonia decided to close its stores nationwide in the US for the November mid-term elections so people could get out and vote. Big signs on their shop doors read: "When the polls open, we close". Not only that, they also became the first brand in the world to publicly endorse candidates for the senate based on their environmental policies, endorsing two democratic nominees.

According to a study by Sprout Social, in the US - despite hesitation by many companies to weigh in on politics - a great majority (66%) of customers actually want them to take a stand on big issues. Most react well to brands taking political stances, especially if their personal beliefs align. Nearly a third (28%) of customers will publicly praise a brand which expresses similar political beliefs to their own and 44% will purchase more from it. It would be interesting to know what kiwis think about this.

Aligned to this was another presenter I saw who talked about how the consumer is extinct and we must find the 'citizen' inside each of us. Really, it's more about what each audience member's beliefs are. It's no longer about targeting a household shopper or certain income bracket: it's about addressing what motivates them as a human with emotions, experiences and a set of personal values. It's behavioural economics - understanding what makes people tick.

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