PRIA: Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) president, Shane Allison, argues that PR and communications is entering a ‘Golden Age’ – and that all communicators need to do to embrace its potential is think more commercially.

For many industries, the 2023 outlook is, shall we say, a little bit uncertain.

Not so for Australia’s communicators.

In a long running trend that accelerated through the pandemic, the influence of our profession grew and transformed. We went from having the ear of the CEO on critical reputation issues, to being trusted advisors on a depth of business issues, helping to navigate the uncertain times that we face as Australians, keeping our staff engaged, communities safe and organisations thriving.

But it’s not just the value of our professional opinion that was enhanced, the value of the work that we do was transubstantiated.

There are a couple of factors underlying this shift.

The holy grail of advertising – digital – reached peak fever and distrust. The biggest selling point of digital, measurability, turned out to be rife with fraud, outright lies and deception, home to fringe groups that poison the public debate. But the reality is brand advertising and building cannot be done solely with paid media, you need to be able to earn an audience’s attention.

Advertisers were quick to gel to this, investing in PR campaigns designed to earn an audience’s attention, building trust, credibility and reputation, which in turn, increases revenue and sales. Their advertising agencies also rushed to figure out how to make earned work.

In short, the rest of the world has now signed up to what communicators have always known – that reputation built through earned attention trumps brand, every time. They’ve also realised that this earned asset drives commercial outcomes as well.

Though this reputation is vital, it’s more fragile than ever before.

Brands are a hairpin away from a mistake that could destroy their social license to operate, decimate sales and set back decades of work. Organisations like Woolworths, Commonwealth Bank and NAB are responding to this by setting a component of executive remuneration to the organisation’s reputation.

These two factors – the importance of reputation and the fragility of it – are driving the dawn of a new golden age for communications and PR.

In this new dawn, communicators – both in-house and agency – are stepping up as creative leaders in their businesses, helping to allocate spend towards earned, owned and paid campaigns.

While advertising can help to buy attention in the short term, earned, owned and paid needs to work in concert to truly earn the audience’s attention – even if you’re paying to capture the first three seconds of this attention.

What does this mean for Australia’s marketers and communicators?

Communicators need to think outcome first, channel second and tactic a distant third.

As we turn the corner towards a potential economic downturn, brands will become more obsessed with ROI. It’s not enough to claim enhanced brand and reputation from an activity. Communicators need to be constantly seeking to understand, and driving, the commercial outcome.

To be absolutely clear – we need to be helping our employers and clients enhance their profitability, and delivering comparable effectiveness metrics in the public sector. Where we can’t identify new sales, revenue defended or reduced costs, we need to be measuring the impact of this activity objectively and externally through tools like RepTrak, not likes, clicks and engagement.

This isn’t to say that likes, clicks, media clips and more are not good outcomes. The question you need to ask is how did these increase sales, defend revenue, or reduce costs? How did the media information campaign that you ran reduce the volume of calls to a call centre, saving your employer or brand money? What month-on-month uptick in sales did you drive through social activity?

Through aggressively linking our activity to these commercial outcomes, we will be able to capture this golden age, even in an economic downturn.

To deliver these commercial outcomes we also need to be disciplined in thinking about channels over tactics. Communicators can work across every channel in the book. We can buy ads, we can pitch media stories, we can develop every type of content.

Thinking channel second means not defaulting to tactical thinking. Tactical thinking is creating a LinkedIn video or pitching a media story. Channel thinking is considering whether social or earned is the best place to earn the right audience’s attention – and the right audience is the one that will drive commercial results for our employers and clients.

If we do these three things right, we’ll have not only earned our right to be shaping our orgnaisation’s brand strategy, but be a sought after partner in doing so.

So what can you do today to help drive this transformation in our industry?

Head out and get to know the commercial drivers of your organisation. Meet with the CFO, ask where your employer or client’s revenue is coming from, talk to the sales team to understand the barriers they encounter with prospective customers, head to the customer service centre and understand the most frequent calls they have.

Then identify how you can change these behaviours – educating prospective customers as to specific product benefits or educating current customers to reduce the number of customer queries. Then think about the commercial outcomes from doing so, and then consider the best channels use.

So, go on, what are you waiting for? The best days are definitely ahead of us.

Source: by Kalila Welch.