While the marketing industry has been bruised by the economic downturn, PR is perhaps weathering the storm best of all, says Katie Morris

Katie Morris, chief executive of Midlands communications consultancy Seal, believes that PR has now come into its own with its ability to deliver such excellent returns on investment. She says: “With budget cuts affecting nearly every aspect of business life, many brands are shying away from more traditional and often costly routes to market such as advertising, and turning to PR as a lower-cost, highly effective alternative.”

This has been made possible because, Morris believes, the perception and parameters of PR have changed. She explains: “The whole expectation of what constitutes PR has really evolved with the meteoric rise of digital and online creating a new ideology in the way we communicate.”

Since Seal announced the launch of its own bespoke digital division at the start of the year, the digital and traditional PR teams now work side by side and the agency estimates that online PR is integrated into 80 per cent of its PR campaigns. Morris believes that although these are testing times for the agency world, they are also some of the most exciting. She adds, “Digital media has opened doors for PROs and has forced us to take a different approach. It has made us listen to our audiences and participate productively in their conversations – we are now joining communities, not aiming to build them. It’s about ‘putting the public back into PR’.

“Blogging, social networking and social media are all about transforming people from content readers into publishers. For the first time, we have direct access to our target communities and a different form of influence on how we shape or change perception and behaviour.”

Morris says that online tools are invaluable in the way that they give quantifiable data for measuring web traffic, social media views, blog comments or Tweets, explaining that they offer “a genuine measure of audience engagement” and are “a new and insightful tool in the evaluation armoury for PR.”

But Morris does caution against social media dabbling: “Many of us only have a latent understanding of digital, which starts and finishes with social networking sites. Often clients will ask for a Facebook group or Twitter page because they are fascinated at its reach and influence. However, a much broader understanding of every aspect will result in a relevant, bespoke digital campaign rather than a disparate scattergun approach.

“Digital is a constantly evolving channel which requires a dedicated digital toolset. Agencies that continue to adapt their business model and invest in specialist digital expertise will be the ones which offer the new PR and are relevant and around in years to come.”

Career History2003: Seal - chief executive
1994: Clarion Communications - director
1992: Ogilvy – new business director
1988: Mistral Group – account director
1984: Countrywide – account manager
1982: Shire Hall Communications – account executive