Chris Lee, Grayling: The PR Industry Is Under Attack And Needs To Change To Survive. Here’s How.

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While BabelCamp is on the go this Saturday, we had a unique opportunity to talk to one of the keynote speakers on stage in Brno who presented some highly interesting facts about the way PR has changed and why ‘brand storytelling’ plays such an important role in online marketing. Chris Lee is the Head of Digital Knowledge in Grayling, a leading global communications agency, and a contributor to Econsultancy, a community for the world’s digital marketing and e-commerce professionals. He was happy to share a few words with Netocratic’s readers to demonstrate why PR should lead digital communication.

Chris Lee, Grayling UK

Chris Lee, Grayling UK

Chris Lee is the Head of Digital Knowledge in Grayling, a leading global communications agency, and a contributor to Econsultancy, a community for the world’s digital marketing and e-commerce professionals. He was happy to share a few words with Netocratic’s readers to demonstrate why PR should lead digital communication.

Disruption vs. tradition in PR industry

You may have noticed that the term disruption has become prevalent in marketing and advertising. Today, we have Chris here to put the PR industry in perspective and tell us why practitioners with a traditional PR mind-set need to evolve fast to compete in the digital era. Chris told us that the world of earned, owned and paid media has morphed in the last decade. The lines between who ‘owns’ what in marketing has blurred, so ‘traditional PR’ is challenged by SEO agencies from a content and reputation standpoint, social media agencies on content and community management, and advertising agencies in particular when it comes to content.

The way the organisations PR agencies represent also needs to adapt to the era of the Social Web and the challenges that poses. PR has an identity crisis, which is why Grayling is a fully integrated agency, specializing in every aspect of online and offline communications, meaning we are best equipped to help organisations across the world face this fast-evolving world head-on. Social media and online publishing disrupted the way PR does business, so Grayling disrupts the way organizations need to think and act in response.

Content, reputation, community management and search

Talking about integrated communications, Chris believes PR is just one part of the integrated communications spectrum, and that in the era of the Social Web, everything is connected. We asked Chris what the role of PR looks like in this unpredictable and transparent Social Web.

As the retailer Anthropologie in Los Angeles can testify, one offline incident in store can spread virally online in minutes, leading to direct action and a lot of bad PR. This can also sit on the front page of Google for a while too, leading to repeat reputational damage over the long term. Add to that the instantaneous nature of the Social Web and the need for solid storytelling and quick turnaround of rich content, and you can see why PR is the glue that ties together content, reputation, community management and search.

Marketers, embrace the mind-set of journalists!

What also interested us was the advice Chris gives to marketers to help them raise awareness, build trust and achieve business objectives and that is to adopt the mind-set of a journalist. He explained that journalists know their audiences, they produce editorial and content plans, create a mix of content (word, audio, video, graphic etc.), and have a commercial mind-set too. So, as Chris explained, their content has a purpose and should always be of interest.

Marketers need to adopt a publishers’ mind-set and think like journalists. This means understanding your audience – where they are, what language they use, what their concerns and interests are – and creating content that instigates an emotional response from them.

Chris also shared an interesting example, referring to the content that needs to be planned out in advance according to what topics are, or will be, timely and conversational at the time.

For example, we saw many major brands at the World Cup preparing images to tweet (both good and bad!) ahead of anticipated outcomes, because audiences were talking about those issues at that moment.

Brands becoming influential publishers

Talking about media and journalists, we couldn’t help asking Chris about the growing distrust that has changed the way people see media, as well as the accuracy of the news they read.

A decline in trust in the media is quite apparent in the US and the UK, as well as other markets, and this could be down to a number of factors. The public is aware of publishers’ agendas when it comes to news, but for marketers the media is still crucial for attaining reach. Traditional media aside, the opportunity remains for brands to become influential publishers in their own right, so long as their content is useful, engaging and entertaining, people will engage with it. Big budget brands like Nike, Red Bull and Virgin are famously good at this, but brands of all sizes can engage in content creation and curation.

Chris also explained that when a consumer engages with a brand’s content, they know there’s a trade-off: the brand wants them to become a customer, ultimately, and the consumer knows that.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik identified eight behaviours that drive action, those being; joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger and disgust. We as marketers need to be able to connect on an emotional level with audiences, and if we don’t, our content will not resonate.

Why identifying influencers is important?

With influencers playing an important role in the digital communication, Chris said that brands must understand who is influencing thought among audiences in the areas in which they operate. In his experience, that’s the reason why  marketers need to identify who those individuals or organisations are, what genuine influencer and reach they enjoy, and approach them with a unique offering which with be of interest and benefit to their audiences.

It’s absolutely crucial to remember that bloggers are not journalists and the approach must be that much more personal and tailored.

Advice from Chris Lee

We asked Chris to share an advice for spotting trends before they happen, which undoubtedly presents a highly useful skill in PR and marketing industry. Maybe, you have already embraced some of the things he advices. If not, now it’s the best time to do so.

Read, attend conferences, listen to podcasts – if you follow the right people and sources you will see what is happening where and make a call on how you can apply learnings to your marketing.

We couldn’t agree more with Chris! With PR being the leader of the extensive digital communication, it is extremely important to be ahead of trends.  And what’s a better way to learn about trends than to hear about them from professionals like Chris Lee? Babel Camp has just presented itself as an important event for spotting the future social trends, and we know Grayling has been the marketing trends’ prophet for a long, long time now. We call this the perfect match!