Public relations isn’t easy. There’s a balance to our craft—a strategic mix of interpersonal grace and tactical excellence mostly foreign to other professions. Persistence, assertion, charm, and humility tie to every relationship and placement we earn. For decades, understanding the audience’s goals and interests drove our successes; it was our ability to engage with reporters that earned PR a seat at the table. But in recent years, that balance has shifted.

As print declines and social media thrives, the challenges for PR professionals continue in the digital space. How do we prove value? How do we tell our stories in a crowded space? How do we become more than just a crisis response team? Today, most PR teams are trying to figure out how to adapt to a digital-first environment without succumbing to clickbait headlines.

The solution circles back to balance.

The worlds of PR and Marketing are on a collision course. We’ve seen marketing teams thrive in the digital space over the past decade. In that time, the marketer’s toolkit expanded to include content marketing, social media marketing, content management, search engine optimization, and the host of analytics that come with them. In the meantime, PR professionals doubled down on media relations and debated the value of advertising equivalents. Marketers leveraged data to understand their audiences. PR pros honed the art of communication and built relationships with journalists, earning the brand exposure that the media provides.

Coordinating the efforts of both PR and marketing sets the stage for successful brand campaigns.

In 2018, Burger King dominated newsfeeds with the WHOPPER® Detour, a location-based campaign that rewarded participants with a 1¢ WHOPPER® if they ordered from the BK App within 600 feet of a McDonalds. To gain the massive coverage for the WHOPPER® Detour campaign, Burger King needed to conduct a well-orchestrated series of events involving both the PR and marketing teams. The entire stunt was promoted across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube using traditional PR and media outreach to drive traditional media engagement, including coverage from Ad Age and USA Today.

The Detour presented a combined effort between marketing’s digitally-minded tactics and PR’s relationship-centric strategies. It was methodical, collaborative and balanced. After the campaign’s first week, the Burger King app was number 1 in Apple’s App Store and had been downloaded 1 million times while seeing additional placements spanning from CNN, to Inc., to AdWeek.

While some campaigns may explode in an instant, what PR people do in building authentic, trust-based relationships with journalists is no fly-by-night activity. It's not a tweet in the dark trying to get somebody to click on a marketing campaign. When a campaign goes viral, pre-existing relationships and internal alignment have to be in place to capitalize on the earned media coverage. We have to know our audience, and understand their beats, their goals and their audiences better than anyone else; that art brings considerable value when it comes to planning out campaigns and determining our success metrics.  

PR pros often fall into the trap of valuing outputs and leaning on advertising equivalents and big impression numbers instead of pursuing outcomes and using attributions to gauge our success. The data we use to frame campaigns is more than just vanity metrics and web analytics. Data-driven campaigns understand their audience, account for survey and focus group feedback, and use those inputs from the beginning of the campaign to create consistent and well-thought-out initiatives to drive distribution and engagement. We can actually “see” how social engagements drive media—if something’s trending, it’s sure to capture the media’s interest.

By focusing on understanding our social audience in these real-time markets, we’re benefiting both media audiences. Burger King’s understanding of the social environment, the simplicity of the campaign and the competition mindset of their audience combined seamlessly to create a compelling viral sensation, capturing the attention of social and traditional media alike.

Whether it’s identifying audiences or refining measurement strategies, PR teams need outcome-centric mindsets paired with media relations instincts to create smarter and more effective campaign strategies. Today, the art and science of PR hasn’t changed—we’re still nurturing strategic relationships towards a desired outcome—but the rules have changed. We’re working alongside marketers to track attribution data, exploring new metrics to better support our business value, and adapting and distributing stories to reach audiences across new and evolving mediums.

The secret to the success of any modern campaign is the coordination and integration of traditional PR tactics with social and digital marketing promotion, using the art to inform the science and strive towards provable outcomes.

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