Defining public relations has been a longtime challenge for its practitioners, even more so in the digital age. The flexibility we have had in defining our work has been a blessing on one hand, but problematic on the other as it makes it easy for anyone to present themselves as PR professionals regardless of their service offerings, which can range from strategic communications and media relations to brand journalism, social media management and more.
Does our industry have a true identity crisis on its hands or simply need a better way of defining itself? In a recent PR Week article, PR Council Chair Christopher Graves, who also serves as global chair of Ogilvy PR, introduced a new term to explain the important work PR practitioners execute for their clients today: earned influence.
The term many are currently familiar with in reference to PR is “earned media,” a definition which Graves deems too limiting to fully capture PR’s expanding and evolving role as it doesn’t take into account that modern PR campaigns cross earned, paid and also owned and shared media. Graves goes on to assert that as opposed to simply seeking popularity, shares or volume, the goal PR practitioners should be striving for is earned influence.
I agree with Graves on the need to redefine the outcomes of PR. Focusing solely on earned media and awareness is short sighted. Broad awareness that doesn’t result in action does no good for the client or practitioner.
When we are doing our jobs well and basing our outcomes on our client’s business goals, we want to get them media that makes an impact. To do so we must identify and build relationships with media and influencers who reach our client’s target audience, and then earn their influence. The essence then of PR is focusing on relationships and earning influence.
Redefining the outcomes of PR doesn’t speak to the marketing or communications strategies that our industry should lay claim to though. I think this is an area that will remain variable based on who you work for and with.
Being a boutique agency we don’t have the bandwidth to be all things to all people. We have taken a more targeted approach to achieve earned influence for our clients by focusing our efforts on media and influencer relations, community relations and expert positioning. Are we brand journalists? Publicists? Community relations managers? Social media managers? These are PR strategies and shouldn’t define our profession as a whole. We are relationship builders and storytellers who earn influence for our clients.