The turn of the millennium triggered a turn in the marketing industry. The increased ease of use and popularity of the Internet allowed advertisers to reach consumers in an exciting new way. The introduction of mobile phones, apps and social media created an avenue for advertisers to customize marketing efforts to individuals within a target market. With this rise in message personalization, a trend began to take form in public relations.
We in the public relations industry are moving toward the notion that, rather than working for the company that hired us, we actually work for the company’s consumers. This trend, while seemingly counterintuitive, has changed the way we should handle print, digital and social media.
How It Affects Us
We wouldn’t be in this industry if we weren’t capable of seeing the opportunities within a challenge. As PR professionals, this is a chance for us to build lasting relationships with our communities and the overall public.
It is more important than ever to pay attention to analytics and feedback. One of the benefits of implementing social media into the public relations regimen is that it offers constant contact with our fans … and our critics. Being able to correspond with the freely speaking public allows us to better voice their concerns in our meetings and, ultimately, in our brand.
As a representative for consumers, practitioners play a major role in the overall success of a company. The rise in popularity of satisfaction-driven sales makes public relations an integral piece of the company puzzle and validates the need to create a PR position in the C-suite. By empowering consumers, practitioners empower themselves.
How It Affects Companies
A company’s first step in capitalizing on this trend is to separate public relations from the marketing department and allow PR to exist as its own entity. This paves the way for us to build connections with communities instead of merely one market within the public. While profits come primarily from a target audience, the image created is based on the perception of the public as a whole. Image drives sales, so we as PR professionals should commit our efforts to forming and maintaining relationships with the communities that form the image.
The second, and arguably most important, effect this trend has on companies is the reintroduction of the idea that “the customer is always right.” Our industry fell into a pattern of telling consumers what they want instead of asking, and lately consumers are pushing back. An overload of advertising noise and the ability to opt out of viewing ads (e.g. “skipping” commercials before YouTube videos or while watching television programming with a DVR) limit opportunities to reach our audience. We must conform our messages to what our customers want to hear as opposed to what we want to say.
How It Affects Consumers
Consumers can expect to see an increase in individualized advertising messages and customer outreach initiatives that allow users to share their thoughts directly with the company. While it may initially be seen as bothersome, consumers will (hopefully) soon realize that these efforts are being made to improve their experiences.
The most remarkable effect of this trend is how empowering it is for the consumer. Never before has customer feedback been so important. Interaction via online surveys found at the bottom of a receipt or social media “likes” and follows allow consumers to be a part of the company decision-making process. And a customer who feels heard and understood is more likely to remain loyal to a brand, which is the ultimate goal for a company.
Clearly, public relations has come a long way since the early days of propaganda techniques in the early 20th century. And as the times change, so do our values. It is more important than ever for us to listen to our customers and use their feedback to better serve the public.