PR's focus for 2018: creating long lasting brand momentum
Good things come to those who wait
As I reflect on the changes in our industry, I reappraise this famous line from Guinness, with (yet another) layer of admiration. The long-running line understands the value of patience. Not just as a marketable attribute of its velvety black beer, but as a necessary element of its brand strategy. The inability to persuasively justify the value of public relations has made it all too easy for CMOs to get the red pen out and cut the PR line whenever there’s a cost saving drive or shortfall in sales.
I’m encouraged that things are changing for our industry. Thanks to the growth of digital and the new breed of digital PR, we are no longer plighted with this ‘PR isn’t measurable’ issue. But as one door opens (and we embrace digital and sharpen our capabilities in measurement) there is a risk that another, door closes, and we turn our backs on brand building. We can now measure the impact of (digital) stories, to within an inch of their trackable lives. So we should all be popping open the Champagne and looking forward to 2018, in eager anticipation of the additional briefs we might get from CMOs disillusioned by digital marketing, (which Marketing Week noted has experienced an ‘annus horribilis’ in ‘2017: a bad year for…’)..
I worry though, that this trend is already starting to create negative behaviours in our industry, and ultimately could damage its reputation. In 2017, Bottle received many more briefs targeting the middle, or bottom end of the sales funnel. Probably because we have strong digital experience and an in-house content team. That’s all cool if the top of the sales funnel is also being targeted and worked on. But it’s not if the top of the funnel is being neglected. In some cases, the drive for short-term impacts completely erodes the focus on long-term brand building benefits. This comes as no surprise, because of the strong appeal of ‘we got X% uplift on traffic to the site because of this social media post’ or ‘we got Y sales from this campaign’ provides all the recognition a sales-oriented business needs. The ability to draw a causative correlation between investment and results seems to be the perfect answer to the question of value. But it’s not.
Brand storytellers know the importance of getting the right balance of short-term and long-term measures. We believe that the role of PR is primarily at the top of the sales funnel, building awareness and consideration for brands, changing consumers’ perceptions, and delivering genuine value to brands over the long-term. After all, genuine consumer perception-shifts are rarely formed from a single brand activation. These changes come about as a result of a powerful accumulation of stories, moments and experiences, baked in the slow-oven of conversations with friends. You simply can’t capture that on a last click attribution model. It appears that Enders Analysis concurs with this view in their report, commissioned by Magnetic, ‘Short-termism risks long term advertising effectiveness’.
So my plea to the industry is that we don’t forget our purpose. That we don’t favour seductive, easier to track, metrics over long-term, harder to prove, ones. We need both. If we keep alert to this, our discipline has a really positive future. We will continue to rise up the value chain of marketing disciplines and create bigger opportunities to tell brand building stories in across all channels. Let’s not sleepwalk into 2018, but stay focused on building brands and creating long lasting brand momentum.