How the Social Media Uprising has Affected the PR Industry

PR does what it says on the tin – in its most basic form it is how an organisation talks to its audience. It is all encompassing and includes every touch point from branding and advertising through to sales and customer service. In years gone by, PR was more about media relations and thus, before the advent of social media, it was the job of a PR expert to engage with the journalist to secure the coverage that would then promote the product, brand or service to a particular publications audience base.

This traditional outlook is deep-rooted within the industry and because of this there is still a massive disconnect around online coverage in general and more specifically social media.  However, the tide is turning. PR Week Jobs Careers Content Editor Antje Derks sat down with Jen Brown, Consultant - Creative & Communications and Kathryn Yardley, Senior Consultant – Digital PR & Marketing at Success Digital, a digital recruitment agency based in London & Manchester, to discuss how the PR industry is changing and how this has affected clients’ expectations.

How has the PR industry changed in recent years and how has social media played its part in this change?

The PR industry has moved through 360 degrees in the last ten or eleven years. Prior to the digital explosion and the coming of social media, everything was print based. It was all about securing coverage. If a company wanted to be seen as thought-leaders, then they were promised by their agency that they would ‘get a piece in the FT’. Securing national coverage and perhaps a radio or TV slot was what the whole industry was based on. Indeed, audience engagement could only happen via these mediums. If a customer had a complaint, they couldn’t tweet about it – they had to write a letter or call. Because of that, successes and failures were almost swept under the carpet because of the time it took to get the complaint or complement – unless of course it was on a massive scale, but essentially communications were under the company’s direct control.

Not so anymore. The tables have turned. The consumer now has a myriad of platforms which they can and do utilise to voice their pleasure or displeasure. Feedback is instant. Companies can no longer control their communications in the same stringent way. Customers are becoming the spokespeople for the industry. They decide if a product is aspirational and will, by definition, set the demographic for it. 

As PR practitioners have got to grips with this new way of communicating, they have had to put a much greater focus on actually understanding the business problems of the clients they represent. They now recognise that the blogger is one of their best ‘tools’ for talking about a product in a positive way, although this medium must also be carefully managed because it can lead to overkill and the blogger may end up losing the trust of their audiences. Essentially, communications have had to become more open and honest, because consumers’ expectations are much higher.

How has this affected the client – in terms of the challenges they face and their subsequent expectations?

This new landscape means that when our clients come to us with a recruitment brief, their expectations are much different from a decade ago. They are seeking to employ candidates who really ‘get’ social media. This is a universal requirement. We are a global organisation and hear the same things from our clients whether they are here, in Europe, the US or Asia. Clients want people who have a concentrated impact – a niche expertise in specific sectors like financial, telecoms and beauty to name but a few.

It is now essential that candidates can make an impact fast; they need to bring their own contacts and increasingly clients want multi-lingual talent. However, there is a huge pay-off for these expectations. We are seeing salaries increase and work-life balance being pushed to the top of the agenda. Because everything is mobile, flexibility to work from home is also becoming more common. Clients are beginning to recognise that if they can keep their employees happy, they will be more productive and turn-over will be lower. In-house clients have looked closely at the agency model and adopted some of their best practices. However, they are also less reliant on agencies, preferring to build their own in-house teams to deal with PR and communications, meaning they have more control over the conversations.

Experiential and marketing are increasingly combining with PR as the lines become more blurred. Companies are prepared to spend more because they can see the returns are greater than before.

Success Digital is working with clients in the telecoms and fashion and beauty sectors. What is happening in these areas currently?

The telecoms space is really hotting up at the moment. This is a sector where we are seeing a lot more direct engagement with consumers through experiential. You rarely go to a shopping centre now where there isn’t a mobile phone company with a pop-up, allowing customers to try before they buy. We are also seeing a consistent message across multiple platforms. They are trying to top their rivals in their space and are doing it hand-in-hand with marketing.

Success Digital is a specialist in the telecoms sector. Our clients want experienced candidates, but not necessarily from a rival organisation. They want multi-lingual talent that can work in an agile and innovative environment. We are finding that our candidates are not coming from a traditional pathway anymore and our clients act on our advice and are looking at talent from tech and gaming to fill their vacancies because so many of the skills are transferable and they want fresh ideas and a new approach. We currently have three exciting vacancies with a very high-profile luxury smart phone provider and they are looking for great, innovative talent. The benefits and the work-life balance on offer are phenomenal.

Much the same can be said for the fashion and beauty industries. We are seeing applicants fit seamlessly into roles in those sectors that have backgrounds in magazines, consumer and even telecoms. Our clients are much more open, which is a huge change. They are willing to look outside of the usual pigeon-holes to find their hires. In the social media sphere, they want senior candidates who are specialists and who know about and can do strategy. Because of this specific want, they have to look further afield. But strategy is strategy and if you can do it effectively, it doesn’t matter so much where you learnt it. It is more holistic because they are seeing which skills are transferable between the different disciplines.

There are definitely more fashion and beauty roles available, especially since these roles are now being brought in-house. Our clients want people who can live and breathe the brand, getting to know it and them intimately. We have a great senior press officer role for a high-profile department store that is looking for a beauty specialist, used to juggling several products and 3 Social Media positions of varying managerial levels within premium, beauty and department store retailers.

How does Success Digital stand out from other digital recruiters?

We are very collaborative. We listen to our clients and then give them sound advice, encouraging them to cast their net wider than they might be comfortable with initially. The candidates from non-traditional pathways have a lot to offer an organisation. We can also help clients structure their teams, but also look ahead with them and plan for the future.


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