Prevail or perish

The PR industry must ponder its own future and embrace change if it is to thrive in destination digital, says George Kotsolios, managing director of GolinHarris Dubai

The PR industry has to embrace initiatives that will help it evolve during the one-way journey to a world where digital dominates.

As we try to balance on a very thin thread that some would describe as the threshold between remaining competitive or simply becoming redundant, it is time to take our fate into our own hands by first defining and then shaping our future.

In the near future, writing a press release and distributing it via email to journalists listed in a database will not be enough for the media and ‘digitised’ consumers who are embracing smart phones and tablet computers. There is a fast-emerging and real need to differentiate our approach to traditional communication and to challenge communicators to think of innovative, yet sustained, practical and effective ways of maintaining and controlling the dialogue with our stakeholders, whoever and wherever they may be.

This article makes the assumption that traditional media will at least play second fiddle to online media. One thing is certain. The advent of new technology has so quickly changed the way media treat – and people consume – information that most communications specialists were taken aback. They were unprepared to deal with the real challenges posed by the revolution brought about by the propagation of smart mobile devices. They have caught up, but they have dismally failed to convince their clients of the value and expertise they can add into the overall mix by engaging with the online world.

Destination digital
This time it is our chance to be ahead of the game. We must innovate and proactively seize the moment to position our industry at the forefront of the marketing mix. It’s not just about arriving at an unknown destination first, but rather preparing ourselves for the journey through a clearly defined mission and equipping ourselves with the right tools to accomplish our objectives.

This exotic new destination is a world where the internet is the dominant information-sharing conduit. There are no landlines, no TV sets, no desktop computers. Instead, every person in destination digital owns a smart, pocket-sized mobile device which can be used as a portable laptop, a phone to make voice or video calls, an HD screen to watch TV programmes and other video or live footage, to listen to popular songs and be informed about the latest news and sport.

This is a world where broadband width and speeds have grown exponentially together with the staggering demand for internet services, a world where 4G networks seamlessly converge with mobile devices to provide online users with highly reliable and cost effective access to the web at lightening speeds. It is also a brave new world where e-commerce has virtually replaced conventional shopping.

In this world there are no print newspapers or magazines, simply because technology has rendered them redundant. They only exist in cyberspace, and they have evolved. They are no longer static. Their journalists are the best-of-breed, a talented few who can combine the attributes of both print and broadcast journalism.

Adapting to the new age
PR agencies need to stay in touch with the times in order to avoid extinction. Agencies must adapt by investing in upgrading their technological capabilities and training their executives to ensure they acquire the necessary knowledge and technical know-how that will enable them to maximise the use of the latest communication technologies.

The successful PR agency of the near future will have to be equipped with the latest technologies and possess significant internal IT expertise that could potentially reside within the fictitious new role of a creative technologies director (CTD). This person will be an experienced communicator as well as an expert in the use of multiple forms of online communications. They will be able to design strategies and aggregate content from various sources and know how and where to deploy them in cyberspace.

The biggest of the agencies – those that can invest in developing proprietary tools – will create software that executives can use to create multi-functional and multi-faceted press releases of the future. This could potentially render the role of a CTD redundant, yet nothing can match the ingenuity of a human being or underestimate their contribution to the overall success of any particular project.

Press releases in destination digital
The press release of the future will have to engage with journalists and audiences in more than one way. News and information consumers are already able to shift between audio, visual and print forms of communication using one device. The advent of the tablet has ushered in a brand new world of media and information consumption and it is becoming almost impossible to argue against the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of online media at the expense of traditional print and broadcast. In the not too distant future, consumers will demand all different facets of the same story to be available instantly on the same screen without moving from one URL to another. Similarly, the processors of these stories – the journalists – will find it a lot easier if integrated content is shared with them in a single file.

Read, watch, listen
A press release is drafted. Across various points, and whenever relevant, additional background information will be available to the reader simply by tapping their finger on highlighted words or phrases. The background information will appear in the form of a scrolled window as opposed to a hyperlink. This way, the written content of a press release will be able to offer readers more relevant information, facts, figures and other sources deemed of ‘interest and relevance’ to the reader who seeks greater insight and analysis.

The press release of the future will also have highlighted names of individuals relevant to the story, products, etc. By tapping on these, readers will be able to see pop ups of pictures relevant to the highlighted word without using a hyperlink. For example, in a release about the launch of the latest iPad a simple tap on the underlined product will immediately result in a 360 degree, revolving visual (photo) selected to accompany the press release, together with its caption.

The same story, fingerprinting Steve Jobs, who introduced the product at a media event earlier that day, would display a picture of Apple’s CEO on the screen. By clicking on Jobs’ picture, readers would have the option to watch an edited version of his presentation or the full-length speech and even read his CV. The press release of the future will be an engaging form of communicating, appealing to many senses at the same time on the same channel with zero delay in relaying and projecting the various facets of the information.

By offering this interaction with the end consumer, brands and corporations, governments and NGOs will be able to convey their key messages in greater, more fulfilling detail, thereby getting closer and creating a stronger emotional bond with their existing and potential customers, voters and stakeholders.

The press conference
In destination digital, agencies have managed to persuade their clients that successful press conferences need to take place through webinar technology.
Once the text, audio and visual invite has gone out to the journalists’ preferred mobile device, the agency follows up and distributes unique user names and passwords to those confirming attendance in order to access the online platform.

Upon their signing in, the media receive a personalised on-screen greeting by a PR manager welcoming them, followed by a briefing of the day’s proceedings. The spokesperson will deliver his speech backed up by any visual aids (slides, graphics, videos etc) required to support the dissemination of the key messages. Upon conclusion the media will be invited to send their questions using instant messaging.

Results measurement
As a result of the congregation of all media activity online, media monitoring and evaluation of campaigns will be extremely accurate and transparent.
Every time a consumer of information interacts with a PR-generated story, special monitors will be able to capture basic information about the person accessesing the information.

Further filtering mechanisms and additional research-led demographics analysis of each medium would cross reference individual touch points and be able to generate a detailed report on the average profile of people who interact with each individual story, the amount of time the interaction lasted. Apple, for example, would know that the launch of the iPad 3 was read by a total of 30 million people residing in the Middle East, of whom 30 per cent were in Saudi Arabia, of whom 25 per cent spent more than five minutes on the story, of whom 2 per cent did so via online radio, and 5 per cent via Okaz newspaper’s digital edition.

Furthermore, as is already the case with social networking sites, Apple’s marketers would be able to follow and participate in conversations about the iPad 3 and receive feedback from the first users of the new product.

Media briefing document
In destination digital there will be Mpeg files containing concise and succinct, yet comprehensive agency-produced video and audio tutorials about a specific upcoming event where the client’s spokesman is scheduled to interact with a list of pre-determined media representatives.
The client can opt to either listen to the audio instructions on their iPod on their way to the venue, or choose to watch the video on their iPad while shuffling screens containing other useful material, such as pictures of the journalists he is about to meet, their recent articles, as well as front cover examples of the publications they represent.

Conversely, the PR agency will also prepare briefing files for the media to prep them in advance of their meeting with the client. In video and audio formats, the PR agency’s team puts together a detailed but brief presentation of the key messages and questions the client wishes to touch upon. The journalist will have the option to download interactive presentations containing background information.

The interview
As in any other form of communication in destination digital, interviews must provide consumers with all three types of content – text, video and audio. Journalists assigned to interview a spokesman come equipped with smart cam recorders.

Information consumers can then choose from viewing or listening to a straightforward Q&A discussion between the journalist and the interviewee, or opt to read a lengthy interview including research-based commentary as well as competitor views, illustrated with static visuals and graphics as described in the ‘press release of the future’ section.

Media lists
Media databases are living documents – quite literally – residing in cyberspace. They have evolved into colourful and compelling templates where close-up pictures of journalists are the dominant feature. By hovering over a picture you instantly receive a window containing full details of the individual, a short bio and social media details. Another click and we can view examples of articles authored by the individual.

Once individuals mentioned in the list update their LinkedIn status, our media data base automatically updates itself to reflect any changes. This will help us immediately track any changes in the status of each journalist and be able to know exactly where they can be found and contacted should they shift jobs.
Fact or fiction
Cynics will probably argue that the future of media is well known and that information consumption habits are already pointing towards destination digital. Technophobes may even challenge this article on the grounds that the technology mentioned is too complex to master, or too far fetched to take seriously. My intention is not to claim thought leadership on this subject or to convince others of the validity of the futuristic scenario presented here. I simply want to stimulate our industry, so we take the initiative that will enable us to both confront the upcoming challenges and reap the benefits of the opportunities. It’s time we reached for higher ground, for the summit of our professional aspirations. PR must prevail or perish.

The full white paper is available here Golinharris PRevail or Perish