How Digitalization affects Public Relations

READING TIME: 4 MINUTES

As digitalization constantly causes upheavals, the need to clarify communication responsibilities within organizations is increasing dramatically. While marketing with all it’s sub disciplines is about to flourish, the question is: Where has public relations gone?

One year ago the CEO of Anton Paar charged a colleague of mine and me with reorganizing the marketing, corporate communications (PR) and lead management department. It turned out to be a challenging task – more challenging than expected, to be honest. In this article I’m going to present you my point of view how to understand the role of public relations within a fully differentiated organization. My thoughts are based on experiences I’ve made in one and a half years of change management.

The era of content marketing

In recent years the digital transformations and upheavals have resulted in an increasing number of companies becoming publicists. In former times we had a tried and trusted recipe: There was mass media like the newspapers, radio and television. If a company had something to say, it purchased a broadcasting slot or an advertisement. And then something happened which had a lasting effect on enterprise communications: Companies began to publish and therefore free themselves from their dependence on the mass media. They produced customer magazines, corporate books and blogs. Now it is routine for a company to have its own podcast channel and radio programs. The era of “Content Marketing” has ultimately arrived.

Digital transformation makes communication measures in general more fast-paced and less expensive. It has never been so easy to reach a large number of people at once. The order of the day is to adapt to this situation – especially for PR. This is not an easy task because the rules of the game have increasingly shorter half-life periods and are constantly in upheaval.

Content strategy instead of content silos

PR and internal communications, brand management and marketing – all these and many more departments aim to communicate relevant information to all their audiences. While marketing benefits from the era of content marketing, PR needs to reconsider its role. The only way to succeed in this environment is to systematically work together with all the other communications departments. Otherwise the result would be a growing number of content silos, storing tons of information.

The level of communications management maturity is therefore not indicated by the output of different content silos, but by a strong content strategic set up. Only if all communications departments follow a clear and target oriented content strategy, business goals can be reached efficiently. 

Kristina Halverson: “Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery and governance of useful, usable content.“

As communication is the public relations department’s major job, it’s vital that they support this content strategic approach and help to form a well-working content strategy. In order to ensure this, PR needs to return to its traditional virtues and very own responsibilities first. But what are they? Le me give you my idea of which tasks, I think are the most important one.

Public relations: the art of mastering human connections

The public relations team is also often called corporate communications department and aims to communicate relevant information to different stakeholders. In contrast to marketing, their target audiences are mostly highly inhomogeneous and disperse. This causes a broad variety of communication messages. The business as such is not always part of the communication strategy. PR represents the company as a place where people are collaborating in a social environment. Generally spoken PR “…in its true sense is about human connections and the art of mastering human connections at a deep level“ – Renee Blodgett.

When we consider the term „public relations“, the main task of PR is to cultivate an organization’s relationship to the public. The term “public” is nowadays really hard to define though. A phenomenon of our time is the fact that there isn’t just one public system anymore. “The public” is a system, which consists of many fully differentiated sub systems, where people with completely different life designs, education levels and interests interact with each others. As a consequence of this, it got significantly more difficult to keep all the different relationships healthy.

Media relations management

One central task of PR is to develop and maintain successful media relations management. This means to accelerate a good cooperation with different journalists of different media. It’s the goal to increase positive coverage without paying for it through advertorials or ads. The challenge is to exactly know what the media wants and which news is worth a story. In a broader context, journalists are gatekeepers when it comes to allowing organizations using mass media as a tool to deliver their communication messages to a broad audience.

Corporate social responsibility

Considering the social aspects of PR, another central point of their work is to foster corporate social responsibility. This is nothing that should be seen as a convenient occasion to showcase generosity in order to earn congeniality points from society. Instead it’s all about upholding social commitments without ulterior motives. It is legitimate though to include socially responsible measures into the communication strategy. This positively affects a brand’s reputation, because more and more people expect companies to dedicate themselves to their social responsibility – above all in times where more and more governments fail in doing so. In that regard, the public relations department needs to take care of a well-balanced communication.

Internal communications

Another major job of PR is internal communications. As employees are a company’s probably most important stakeholder group, they of course demand high standards of communication. Without strong internal communication tactics, businesses fall behind in productivity, profits and employee satisfaction, which again may cause a worse staff turnover. It’s the goal to help employees to understand the organization’s objectives, values and culture. Due to the mentioned upheavals through digitalization, it got more difficult to reach out to all of them. This causes a strong need for barrier-free communication solutions. A social intranet for example is a nice tool for all employees with an office job. But what is with all the people working in manufacturing halls and at assembly lines? They probably need offline solutions, which may appear pretty trivial in our digitalized world: Bill boards, info screens, information events, a printed internal magazine etc. The more hierarchic an organization is, the more difficult it is to guarantee a flawless flow of information.

I hope I was able to provide you with some useful thoughts for your daily work. If you’d like to stay updated about more posts, please subscribe to my newsletter below.

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Max Sommer Written by:

Max Sommer is a specialist and advisor in the fields of content marketing, content strategy and brand management. He is head of the department "Brand & Content Marketing" at the international high tech company Anton Paar.

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