PR in the Digital Race

By Kontakt Frontpage,

Article from the leading Danish industry magazine Danish Marketing June 2017

Digital transformation has led to a blurring of many industries, causing an overlap between traditional business areas. But who will win the race? We spoke to Kirsten Dinesen, a leading Danish PR and marketing specialist and the first person to publish a Danish book on digital strategy and who introduced the concept of digital PR in Denmark in 2008.

Looking at digital marketing, is PR currently in a tail wind or the opposite?

In general, PR and strategic communication are in the tailwind. Digital PR and communication is expanding and becoming a bigger part of the business, but it depends on who you ask and what part of ‘digital’ we are talking about.

Kirsten Dinesen points out that some PR agencies have been quick to understand digital communication and consider it as an integral part of their services, but there are still quite a few that are sticking to classic PR – primarily in the shape of media pitching, public affairs and stakeholder contact.

For most agencies, social media is a fully integrated service and that’s good. We see too many shitstorms occurring because of a hot tempered internal employee or an advertising campaign where the people behind it failed to consider the entire stakeholder universe or neglected to assess the campaign in a larger societal context. This is what PR people are trained to do – both in their worklife and before that during their education which is often political, human or social science or journalism. That’s why PR professionals excel in planning and executing an overall and long-term digital strategy.

Some PR agencies are evolving towards becoming ‘communication houses’ with graphic designers and media professionals among the staff. Are PR agencies turning into both advertising and media agencies?

Postgraduate courses within software and interfaces for the PR industry remain a big challenge. Other types of agencies are more technically advanced, but not necessarily on content. That is why we now see a blurring of industries, where media agencies experiment with content, advertising agencies experiment with…. well I wouldn’t call it PR, but media coverage and social media agencies experiment with sponsored content in media.

Is this the reason why the PR agencies and not advertising agencies in the future will be ‘lead agencies’?

I think that is over simplifying it. If we look more structurally on this matter, more and more branding will be driven by international clients, where local execution often becomes pure adaptation and the rest is left to marketing automation in its many shapes and forms. PR is still a discipline that requires deep insight and the ability to handle stakeholder relationships and it requires knowledge of the local market. Just like event agencies, who know local conditions. Advertising agencies have a unique creativity, and this is their core competence. I’m not saying PR professionals aren’t creative, they are. It’s just in a more understated fashion.

The fight has been canceled

But who will own the customer and where will the money go?

PR agencies now enjoy a much more central position among their clients, which is also due to the fact that they have more direct access to top management. Furthermore, clients often have well-educated and skilled employees who are also able to work their way around all the internal politics in large organisations. Therefore, the unworthy fights we saw in the past between agencies have been cancelled. Today, focus is on the ability to collaborate and provide space for the competencies on the team.

You did not answer where the money will end?

The business models are somewhat different. The budgets seem bigger among advertising agencies because they require more production. But because PR agencies have different analytical capabilities, they are stronger on the long-term strategy. Also, they focus more on the client’s business development. I have no doubt that the big battle over the long-term strategy has already been won by the PR agencies. But the creative development and campaigns…. here the advertising agencies are simply much stronger. But they have, except for a few agencies, lost the large analytical work relating to strategy. Now that is carried out by the strategically strong PR agencies, and the more elaborate analyzes continue to be carried out by the ever-stronger business consultants, for example. Danish Qvartz, Boston Consulting, Monitor Deloitte etc.

All industries are challenged

It was Kirsten Dinesen who introduced the concept of Web PR and Digital PR in Denmark in connection with her book, ‘Consumers in the Driver’s Seat’ from 2008. Digital strategy is very much about tearing down the silos between specialized skills and let the client’s goals guide the choice of channels and tools – such as SEO, SEM, 121 etc. I have always in my work combined public relations with direct markting tools. Several of my good colleagues in the PR industry have begun working with different types of marketing automation software. It is a completely natural development for services which before were specialities among the large agencies, or among a few dedicated direct marketing agencies. Today, it’s a piece of software we’re all expected to know inside out. PR professionals have always been kind of geeks when it comes to reaching audiences with ultra-precise messages using new technology, and, best of all, to start a dialogue.

The Regime of Experts

Kirsten Dinesen points out that historically, Denmark is one of the countries with most self-proclaimed digital experts and this has created some uncertainty among clients. During her many years as a PR executive for Google Denmark, she followed the evolution of SEO and marketing automation.

“The expert culture has created some uncertainty among clients who think that even small issues must be solved by the “expert”. But in everyday life there are skilled – and less skilled – craftsmen and many issues may not be so difficult to handle after all. Therefore, it is a constant race for all agencies to embrace the many new technologies which are still relatively immature. We are living in a challenging but very exciting time. But it requires constant focus on postgraduate courses”, Kirsten Dinesen emphasises.

Therefore, Frontpage PR has for many years been supporting employees to take certified courses and online courses found within AdWords, Google Analytics, Facebook, LinkedIn advertising, marketing automation etc.

“In our processes, everything starts with words: What words are related to the company, what are the client’s customers looking for, and how can we influence that through PR, social media etc? And so we use these points and way of thinking all the way through the overall communication. It’s all about analysis and words and this is exactly where PR professionals are incredibly sharp. I always avoid saying we are experts, but we know a thing or two about digital marketing!”, Kirsten Dinesen concludes with a laugh.

Facts:

Kirsten Dinesen is the founding CEO of Frontpage PR & Communication and has previously worked with integrated campaigns for large international agencies. In 2016, Frontpage won the Danish PR Tiger Award in the category of Strategy for their Ericsson campaign, which explored major Danish companies and their attitude and readiness towards IoT in their production. The campaign was a combined major survey and analysis carried out by Monitor Deloitte on behalf of Frontpage, and a national PR/communications campaign.