ITL #222 Becoming business strategists: time to recharge the PR profession

4 years, 4 months ago


The communications landscape is being transformed and client needs have become more complex. But these sweeping changes have thrown up an opportunity for PR practitioners to redefine themselves as sales, marketing and communications strategists. By Lars-Ola Nordqvist.

It may be painful for some of us to undergo a transition in mindset regarding our approach to PR. But the transformation now taking place in the communications industry could be the best and most important opportunity to enhance our position that has occurred in the PR profession.


This new challenge can add both value and credibility to PR practitioners and our clients. However, it will also put us under tremendous pressure. We need to redefine our profession, broaden our domains and spheres, and open our minds to the new world of digital media, marketing, sales and branding. The profession is calling for a recharge.


With the rapidly growing intricacy of the communicative landscape, it’s becoming ever more important for sales and marketing departments to align their efforts and integrate with the communication specialists – and vice versa.


The constantly innovative development of digital tools for advertising and sales and the broader use of social media and internet for users in both B2C and B2B, has triggered our understanding for new issues and challenges, such as;

  • The complexity of breaking through filter bubbles – personalized search and feeds based on algorithms and user data – and then be relevant throughout customer life cycles.
  • The new possibilities that comes with hypertargeting and big data.
  • Keeping track of vast amounts of accumulating communication material and user data

Recharging PR to business strategist

This is what is reshaping, or recharging the role of the modern PR professional, transforming it from a communications specialist to a business strategist.


  • Communications, sales and marketing departments needs to clearly understand the overall business goals, integrate their acts and collaborate over the borders.
  • Marketing needs to be closely involved in the sales strategies to maximize the effects of every effort.
  • Sales needs to start understanding all the value modern communications can deliver, mainly in how it can be part of delivering far more valuable leads.
  • Communications needs to enhance its role as the overall strategist, turning business goals into an integrated sales, marketing and communication action plan.


With this approach, we can intelligently challenge briefs and help our clients see the bigger picture. “Why are we doing this and what should it deliver?”

The need for this new PR profession, which will be adding new competence and recharging the traditional PR role, is developing through the democratic revolution that social media has brought to communications – like it or not. It is now broadening our strategic communications scope, deepening our ability to listen to the needs and voices of consumers in the market, and helping us to better understand and use the mechanisms of buyers.


The most exciting part is that we as PR practitioners need to become more capable and knowledgeable in more disciplines. We need to master, mix and exploit traditional PR, sales and marketing strategy, internet campaigns, social media, and business/market intelligence.


Ready for higher PR requirements?

All this comes with even more new challenges, based on public value. As described by Robert Phillips in his excellent book Trust me, PR is dead, we also need to understand the new challenging models of Public Leadership and the new accountability metrics. Public Leadership is characterized as co-produced, citizen-centric and society-first, a sort of social democracy which returns ‘purpose’ to the core of business and addresses the core issue of trust.

Are we ready to transform to those higher requirements on us in the PR industry? Sales/marketing strategies, digital communications and Public Leadership? They come with risks but they also come with higher recognition.

We still need to maintain a high level in traditional PR, learn how to interpret and create clear strategies and to define the communication purposes so that the whole organization is working towards the same goals. Our content needs to become more relevant to the consumer, and we need to be relevant not only through product messages but throughout the whole brand story.

The Recharged PR changes our vocabulary and focus from traditional target groups and corporate messages to a) Personas – descriptions of individual consumer personalities of interest to our client – b) Pains and Needs of those individuals – what are their concerns, what are they interested in, and how does that affect their lives, and c) Gains – if we can help solve their concerns, what value would that bring to their lives?  


We summarize these insights in Value propositions; what are the values that our client and its products or services can bring to its customers? How can that improve customers’ lives? By personifying the customer or prospective buyer and engaging in social media life, we learn more about how we should communicate our clients’ propositions – rather than transmitting messages to target groups.


Compelling stories and millions of voices


PR and branding has always been about telling a compelling and engaging brand story to the individual reader, communicated through words, tone of voice, video, media, influencers, and/or other visuals. We use the web – and traditional media – to create attraction and interest for our content to the individuals and public that fit our personas.


We now must rely on the insights and suggestions of – not third party endorsers, that’s old school – but influencers, journalists, bloggers, thought leaders, and other social media names with tens or hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of followers and opinion voices. Individuals who become influential to consumer decisions because they seem to share the same values as I do, as a reader and consumer.  


We need to better understand and adapt to how the new generations have changed their habits of media consumption. There is a reason why print media is losing readers. The younger consumers watch YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Netflix instead. It’s the new TV and newspaper. They choose what kind of content they want to be attracted by. According to BCG 2016 and Ooyale 2016, mobile online video usage is expected to increase 2,084% in the next five years. In 2018, 80% of media consumption will be through mobile online video.


PR, marketing and sales flows together


This is where PR, marketing and sales driven communication flows together.


The new recharged PR approach helps our clients to sell more and to be more credible. It illustrates the client company’s ability to listen, understand and engage. And that clearly differentiates and helps to strengthen their brand.  


At the same time, the brands and companies who try to take shortcuts, treat their customers badly, or don’t engage in Social Leadership, may find themselves facing heat from the public, maybe condemned. Their brand names may be hurt.


Branding is the other side of this coin. We need to understand what kind of companies and products our customers like and dislike. We need to participate in, not only read or hear of, the conversation that is taking place in social media. We need to engage in the concerns of and relations to people, public, communities and individuals. That behavior matters in the public eye and differentiates the new PR from the old, interesting brands from dull brands, and modern communication from traditional.


The Recharge of PR will take the communication profession to the next level.

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The Author

Lars-Ola Nordqvist

Lars-Ola Nordqvist is a Senior Advisor in PR and Brand Communications and acting CEO and Founding partner at Comvision AB in Stockholm, Sweden. He has 35 years’ international experience in journalism, public relations and strategic communication and is Secretary of the board of independent PR agency association, PR World Alliance (PRWA). He is a former board member of The Public Relations Agencies in Sweden and has been on the Jury of Swedish award, The Grand PR Prize, since 2011.

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