“PR is no longer an afterthought in integrated communications”

Current Global's Sinead O’Connor explains why PR agencies in the region need to be given a voice at every stage of the campaign development process.

communications PR
Sinead O’Connor, Senior Director at Current Global MENAT

The role of PR in integrated communications strategies has been evolving over recent years and continues to be one of the industry’s hot topics. Thankfully, we’re moving away from ‘can you get some coverage for this advertising campaign’ to PR starting to have a genuine seat at the table when defining the strategy and creative.

This was particularly evident at Cannes Lions 2024, a breakthrough year for the PR industry where, for the first time ever, we saw PR agencies pick up Grand Prix as well as credits across the shortlists and winning campaigns.

However, despite its undeniable importance and a clear move in the right direction, integrating PR into broader communication efforts still has some way to go.

Why are we here?

LinkedIn has been awash with agency folk celebrating their Cannes award wins, which is brilliant to see.

However, with some people not even crediting the client in their post or talking about the campaign’s ‘why’, it begs the question: are we just in it for the fame?

Surely any creative should start with the client’s business objective, not ‘how can we win an award?’

An idea is only as good as the impact it makes, and success shouldn’t just be winning a Cannes Lion. The role of PR is to consider the campaign audiences (which usually aren’t the creative community) and the need to drive a solid and relevant news hook beyond just creative cleverness.

Heinz Ketchup Insurance, FP7 McCann’s Bronze winner for the Radio and Audio category at Cannes Lions 2024

Ensuring creative ideas earn attention

There is often a disparity between what brands or creative agencies want to say and what journalists want to write about.

It’s harder to have messaging cut-through in earned media than in owned or paid media.

After all, PR isn’t just about getting coverage in the marketing and communications press; true game-changing campaigns make their way into the cultural zeitgeist and mainstream media because they earn attention and align with, or indeed create, genuine news.

At its core, integrated communications is about ensuring consistency and coherence across all communication touchpoints. It’s time for clients, and the industry as a whole, to understand that PR is no longer an afterthought in integrated communications practices.

It serves as a linchpin in this process, aligning messaging, amplifying brand stories, and cultivating trust among audiences. By integrating PR seamlessly with other marketing disciplines, brands can create a unified narrative that resonates across platforms.

Creating ‘talkability’

It’s easy to get lost in high-level strategy and miss a brilliant tactical PR idea. Some of the campaigns with the greatest talkability come from a single channel or moment, so building flex into an integrated strategy will make sure the brand doesn’t miss opportunities to generate tactically earned media coverage.

Puck’s Selfless Shelves, the Bronze winner of the Creative Comms category at Cannes Lions 2024.

PR also plays a vital role in managing reputation and mitigating crises.

In today’s digital age, news travels at lightning speed, and a single misstep can have far-reaching consequences for a brand’s image. Through proactive reputation management and crisis communication strategies, PR can ensure creative campaigns don’t land in turbulent waters.

At the very least, any creative should be put though an issues management lens to determine the risk factor.

Good ideas can come from anywhere

Incorporating diversity of thought from different marketing disciplines and different cultural reference points enhances the quality and effectiveness of marketing strategies and means we’re being thoughtful and inclusive of the audiences we intentionally set out to reach.

Having PR involved in the creative process from the start should lead to more innovative ideas that work in earned media.

For this to be successful, teams must be able to work effectively together, and that isn’t always a given.

Since I joined Current Global, part of the Middle East Communications Network, I’ve seen this work incredibly well. When creative agencies are not only willing to integrate PR into the mix but tailor ideas to work harder for earned media, you get the best outcomes. Afterall, a good idea can come from anywhere.

As an industry, there’s huge potential for PR in integrated communications. I look forward to collectively moving from a seat at the table, to the head. And, of course, winning more awards.

By Sinead O’Connor, Senior Director at Current Global MENAT