The Relevance of Public Relations in Today’s Digital Age
As social media proves to be a catalyst for coverage and outreach to spread like wildfire, the necessity for public relations (PR) comes into question. When the boundless outreach of social media can be leveraged upon to maximise attention from the media and masses alike, is PR really that essential?
Who better to ask than an experienced public relations practitioner in the thick of the action about the relevance of public relations (PR) in today’s digital age? Raymond Tan, Director of Arcis Communications, a boutique PR agency based in Singapore, answered our rapid-fire questions and reveals deep insights into the importance of PR.
Arcadier: PR is traditionally known to be the maintenance of a favourable public image of the company through active and physical engagement with its stakeholders. How does it compare to social media?
Raymond: PR is still valuable as it provides the authentic engagement of a face-to-face or personal relationship. There are instances where my firm organises media events for various purposes, giving rise to greater and a deeper level of interaction with the stakeholders. This lends more credibility and trustworthiness to the coverage you intend to attract as compared to using social media as a channel to PR is also a way for executives to position themselves as authorities in their industries. Whereas, a lot of information remains unsubstantiated on social media, where noise abounds. From a PR perspective, you need to invest in quality and verifiable content in order to be successful in social media.
Arcadier: There have been naysayers arguing that PR is irrelevant in this digital age where social media can do what PR does at a lower cost. What’s your take on that?
Raymond: Many view social media as a form of PR. If you are selling directly to consumers, an active social media engagement makes a lot of sense as you want to be in their environment. The brevity, immediacy and accessibility of social media will always be its strength. Social media creates platforms for collaboration, which is a great way to engage communities. It can be a good PR channel, but it cannot be a “one-size fits all solution”.
I’ve worked with some B2B clients who are all not necessarily consumer-facing. They reach their customers through business partners and their intermediaries. Many still find that the most effective way for that to happen is through mainstream media. A ‘traditional’ PR outreach is still important, and when mixed with social media, becomes even more powerful.
The opportunities that come along with engaging in PR for a startup particularly, is not limited to gaining recognition for your product or service, but when you are seeking for more funding too. When a start up engages a well-thought out and sustained PR campaign, it can yield exceedingly substantial ROI (returns on investment).
Arcadier: As the director of Arcis Communication, how would the use of PR come into play for tech startups and businesses?
Raymond: While PR is often seen as a lesser priority as business owners find it unnecessary or costly to do, it can actually be a cost effective approach to marketing and to getting the word out about your business. By incorporating PR early into your business, you’ll also create a platform to magnify your audience reach and be noticed. The value of PR lies in building relationships with the media and influencer communities that generate coverage. Getting positive coverage from the media can grow the reputation of your business, and open doors to new opportunities.
Arcadier: What are some of the common obstacles faced in getting a PR message out there?
Raymond: A startup should hold off on running any kind of PR until a product is ready for launch and has enough content or talking points. Once you make yourself accessible to the media, you should have a story that will interest the media – whether they are about your perspective on market trends, innovation, business expansion, business partnerships or customer adoption. A great product or service may not suffice to garner media interest so you need to know what makes a good story.
Remember journalists are pitched hundreds of stories, products and services, and they always prefer to be objective. They are unlikely to pick up information that is overtly self-promoting but more likely to run a story showing how your business solved a problem for a customer. Hence, it is useful to keep to facts, not marketing or product pitches as they will be perceived as bias. Also, to be credible, use third party references like an analyst, customer or user to provide a testimonial or endorse your business or solutions.
Arcadier: What are the best tricks of the trade entrepreneurs can learn from as they minimise cost in their PR and/or marketing efforts?
Raymond: A hybrid-model is usually much better to accommodate the various needs a startup may have as they launch and grow. Startups can engage in some form of PR activity when they are ready. They should also work with PR domain experts and tie their spending in PR to clear business objectives.
In the earlier stages, startups can hire someone internally and create a function that melds PR into social media and SEO, before working with different vendors or agencies to obtain the best-of-breed for each marketing or communication channel. An agency is best utilised once a company has grown, with an employee designated for marketing and communications. This company representative will then be the one to work with and manage the external PR agencies, as he or she knows best the company’s brand and story.
At the end of the day, public relations encapsulates an element of credibility that still cannot be matched by social media. If anything, PR has become even more relevant in this digital age, with the need for increased discernment between credible and unfiltered information floating around in social media.