PR rules online says The London Economic’s Jack Peat

My quest on Friday night to find a nice pizza place in London took me through a myriad of online marketing methods from sponsored searches to banner ads and featured posts on Facebook before I made a decision based on an article that did so much more than any flash ad ever could. It gave an honest review of the food, wine, price and ambiance and offered perhaps the most potent example of something I had long suspected but had yet managed to quantify; that where marketing has struggled to adapt to the digital landscape, PR has found it to be a natural fit.

The digital landscape has produced a new generation of consumers and a barrage of marketing spend to match it. Shoppers in Britain spent £91 billion online in 2013 and are expected to spend £107 billion in 2014 which is why the UK is predicted to become the first country in the world where more than half of all advertising spend goes to digital media.

But marketing has missed a trick. That consumers are now spending more online shouldn’t be the primary driver of our campaigns, rather, the focus must be on the new generation of consumers that have been moulded by the digital environment, becoming more aware and increasingly engaged in the marketing cycle. In other words, it’s not what you’re marketing for, but who you are marketing to.

Marketing is lost

As the founder and editor of a digital publication I find myself constantly frustrated with exploitative (bear with me) advertising campaigns. Marketers have become quite neglectful of digital platforms because we offer a more direct route to a point of purchase than traditional press and broadcast media, and thus the cost of a digital ad is often tied to metrics such as click-throughs and sales rather than brand recognition even though we consistently showcase brands in front of their target audience.

Essentially, what we’re being told is that unless we send customers to a check-out page by the bucketful, the ad isn’t worth running. The measurable impressions from targeted audiences and the fact that digital consumers often transcend platforms (you can see an ad for a London show and book over the phone or at the box office, for example) is essentially being ignored by marketers because of the more juicy prospect of conversions and click-throughs. 

PR is found

But that’s not how the internet works, and PR has naturally managed to plug the gaps where marketers have failed to adapt. The main reason why is that those in public relations have come to understand that the digital consumer transcends platforms. What people see online can be actioned upon on the high street, can be discussed amongst friends and can be seamlessly shared on social wires which fits like a hand in glove with the long-standing PR mantra that any publicity is good publicity. 

But above all, the main reason that PR works on digital publications is that it is a natural fit. In an age when most people are naturally suspicious of marketing campaigns, it wasn’t the Domino’s sponsored search ads that I clicked on or the Pizza Hut ads on Facebook, but The London Pizza Blog that grabbed my attention as well as articles on Time Out, The London Standard, Londonist, The Guardian Online and Thrillist which all had rave reviews of Homeslice in Covent Garden, which turned out to be superb.

In the digital landscape, PR trumps sponsored search ads because people trust organic search results more than they do paid-for search results, it trumps advertisements because people prefer to engage with content and it gets more social interaction because PR content is inherently more sociable. In short, PR is a more human interaction in a landscape of people talking to people, whereas marketing is struggling to adapt on this lucrative platform.

Jack Peat, founder and editor of The London Economic

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