The inconvenient truth about PR integration by Threepipe’s Jim Hawker

Integration is one of the most overused terms in PR these days. Go on most agency websites and you are guaranteed to see the word used a few times to describe the services that are offered. Technically they are not wrong, many agencies are indeed offering an integrated service, but this word masks a thousand truths.

The reality is that most integrated offers these days are a combination of media relations and social media expertise. At a stretch it may include experimenting a little bit with some paid-for spend behind certain social media posts on the company credit card, or perhaps if more sophisticated, it may even include some experience working with content amplification tools such as Outbrain or Taboola.

Today my argument is that modern PR can’t survive without an integrated approach which includes paid media and I would also include brand and individual reputation within that. As we enter a more content-driven world where media and social platforms are crying out for newsworthy and branded content, the possibilities and the opportunities become greater for us all.

Creating good content has never been a problem for this industry. However, when we play with content in this new fragmented media landscape, our integrated shortcomings are being more and more exposed.

Organic reach of content on social platforms is next to nothing without paid media behind it and not having a paid seeding strategy behind content is tantamount to professional suicide. Not understanding how to effectively tag content and make it discoverable, or indeed being unaware of keyword search terms when brainstorming content strategies, is like going into a fight with Floyd Mayweather with one hand tied behind your back.

Nor is there any point asking for more budget for content if you can’t prove the value from it. In our work for the England and Wales Cricket Board we were able to seed (paid and earned seeding) cricket content to agreed buying personas and then serve paid media to those that had engaged with our editorial led content to drive people to purchase tickets. The earned-media-led approach we developed as part of an integrated campaign had proven demonstrable value and it was refreshing to see our content strategy inform the paid media strategy supporting it.

The challenges are immense. PR budget holders on the client side often don’t have the internal influence to bring this all together and make integration a true reality. We are seeing more media buying agencies move into social channels and taking ownership away from PR agencies because these channels now require different brains to make them work.

Many agencies are describing themselves as integrated, but in reality they are still media relations specialists. The quality and reach of the content they create proves a lack of understanding of what to do with it or how to squeeze value from it.

A modern PR agency these days needs more than a contacts book. It needs experts across SEO, paid media, content and earned media. That is the truth.

Jim Hawker, founder of PR agency Threepipe

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