Did COVID-19 Kill PR?
No, Social Public Relations Remains Immune
June 30, 2020
By Kreps DeMaria President, Sissy DeMaria Koehne
Shut-downs, curfews, quarantines, isolation — the long months of the COVID-19 crisis and recent weeks of social justice protests have taken a lasting toll on the traditional public relations industry. Already midway between evolution and revolution, the past quarter’s turmoil has sped-up and exacerbated what many canny observers have long known -- social media has nudged conventional media for the prime position in the media landscape.
The shift has been in the works for more than a decade: With print advertising plummeting and digital advertising on the ascent, smartphones have replaced broadsheets as the most essential sources of news and information. Consumers no longer directly seek out news and content -- they’re swiping and tapping and crashing into information literally everywhere they go.
Now, owing to COVID, digital content has become even more essential as even once mighty legacy print media companies close their presses for good. Sure, their digital components remain robust, but the sheer speed at which digital media is evolving means that even the most farsighted outlets -- along with press teams and marketers -- always seem to be playing catch-up.
First it was Facebook, then Twitter, followed by Instagram and Snapchat and Soundcloud and now TikTok. Each of these platforms is both acquiring followers and scrambling for scarce ad dollars -- which means marketers, developers and PR experts must constantly refine their messaging to best attract new and overlapping audiences. Along the way, marketers and PR teams must also not merely reimagine what press campaigns look like, but reset their rules around how to measure success.
Decades ago success meant page views in thick, ad-filled glossies; then came uniques and clicks and another kind of page views. Now we’re laser-focused on engagement -- figuring out how to not just get consumers to swipe our social media accounts and stories, but then link through to company homepages and e-commerce opportunities. We want our content to be quick and sticky so that users never find a reason to leave a company’s digital ecosystem. The truly successful brand is one that answers every consumer need before they know they even need it.
Engagement is downloading an app or entering an on-line quiz or tuning into the myriad podcasts and webinars and branded video programs that companies must now deliver as part of any comprehensive messaging campaign. As they adapt to this new reality, companies must anticipate markets that do not yet exist and nurture narratives they might never have considered. And they must do this all while ensuring that their language and positioning feel organic, authentic, inoffensive and inclusive. And yes — all four are required!
Of course the rise of hashtag activism and its accompanying wave of ‘cancel culture’ clearly have the potential to inhibit creativity. Brands leery of bad press might stick to well-worn scripts or innocuous storytelling to keep the masses content. And this is understandable. But the sheer trauma of these past few months (both literal and spiritual) might also suggest otherwise.
Kreps DeMaria is a full service integrated public relations and social media agency.