PR practice: Digitise or die

By Ibidunni Banjoko

The rise of technology has changed the communication industry and digitisation is taking up a major part in people’s lives from smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and gadgets, to home assistants, voice recognition systems, personal finance, health tools, and many more. It’s no surprise that public relations and the entire marketing communications industry have also been disrupted immensely. From the way PR professionals talk to people, to the way they use channels and the way content is generated and distributed, so much is being positively changed. This is how digital disruption challenges agencies to keep up with technological development, while innovative services and tools are taking over traditional PR functions.

The public relations profession has been around for over a hundred years in Nigeria, notwithstanding, the industry risks being left behind if the current practitioners don’t quickly embrace and adapt their craft to digitisation. Technology is driving change at a dizzying rate, forcing public relations practitioners everywhere to scramble to stay on top of the latest and greatest advances.

As communicators, PR practitioners pride themselves in their expertise as natural, authentic story-tellers, reputation managers and masters of influence. But now the profession needs to evolve and go wider with skills. Responding to MARKETING EDGE enquiry on why PR agencies should digitise, the Executive Director, Brooks and Blake Nigeria Limited, Taiwo Ogunwumi, advised that PR companies must improve on digital capacity or risk fizzling out.

“The new normal for PR is building a strong online and digital presence. Zoom call, online webinars, and launches have been the new order of the day and many organisations are adopting this method to reduce cost, and I don’t see it changing soon. PR companies must learn to manage clients and consumers from afar. The need for digital public relation skills is one of the most significant ways that professionals grow, especially as online visibility, engagement and relationships will continue to grow in importance.”

He further stated the need for public relation agencies to improve their online presence through high-quality backlink and social media mentions. “Digital PR encompasses more than pitches and media lists; it requires a clear understanding of the core communication strategy and how to achieve it in the new age. Consultants must improve on their digital skill as it is paramount to the success of any PR agency in the nearest future as the industry continues to move online.”

In the same vein, the CEO of Davebrook Limited, Seun Adesida said: “Covid-19 increased online and TV content consumption to record levels and most PR Strategists are using the platforms to utmost brands advantage. This trend is expected to get more invasive as more platforms keep emerging to put content directly in front of the target audience. The days of prime time messaging is gradually closing. Live streaming is the new normal for communications managers and CEOs. These are some of the key trends to build on in the new normal.”

Corroborating the earlier views, Executive Director, CMC Connect, Raheem Olabode, said: “The outbreak of the pandemic has shifted the landscape across various industries and public relations is not exempted. The new normal has heralded a systematic change in our approaches to strategy as the world is now more digitally-driven than ever; hence, the emergence of new trends.

“Artificial intelligence and data are being harnessed to gain insights into consumer behaviour, which is pertinent to determining choices and preferences to tailoring messages for the appropriate media for effective reach.”

He continued: “Beyond the digital paradigm shift, consumer engagement has also been flipped on its head as the COVID-19 crisis has changed the expectations of consumers and how brands should communicate with their stakeholders. Perhaps, the most significant trend would be conscious communication, which has seen brands pay more attention to tonality in their messaging, with more adopting reassuring tone and demonstrating empathy.

“Give it to them, PR professionals seem to be catching up and ready to join the digital train. Today, we don’t see public relations firms churning out press releases, inviting journalists for press coverage irrespective of the news value in the material and continuously call a journalist to follow up like those of old.”

Now that everything is digitised with and people are using the Internet and social media like life depends on it, PR has demonstrated it cannot afford to be left out. The era of digital PR is here!


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