Online Takes The Lion’s Share

10 years, 4 months ago


Timo Hillbrecht analyses the impact of meteoric developments in the online area on the communications market and explains the new requirements, providing examples through his agency’s work with Ford and Disney.

Web 2.0 is established and mobile communication is on everyone’s lips – and the range of services is growing. Nevertheless, time seems to have stood still at many PR agencies.

Public relations is often understood as an isolated discipline and only rarely offered or brought into play in a cross-media form. It is as if a whole succession of PR consultants wanted to bring back the times when winning over clients was simply a matter of sufficient contacts with print editors. Things are different today. Without sound knowledge of online communication, opportunities for PR agencies on the competitive market are diminishing.

In the lifestyle sector and in popular magazines, the soaring importance of online editors is especially clear. While established print magazines have disappeared from the market in recent months, lifestyle and community portals are increasingly emerging on the internet.

This is not a coincidence but rather the result of massive targeted investment in the online market by publishers and media organisations. Online editors of established print magazines are no longer adjuncts borrowing their stories from the print editors. Independent editorial articles are researched here, collaborations are brokered, and important contacts are developed.

And that’s not all: this is where the action is. It is not only visitor numbers on the pages of online services which are rising sharply, but also mobile services which are increasingly being used.

Robust research

The European Communication Monitor 2008 investigated future trends in communications management and substantiated the increasing importance of online PR with impressive figures: while the importance of online communication in 2008 was rated at around 60 percent, its significance will increase to about 90 percent by 2011.

PR professionals across Europe have thus cast an unambiguous vote as to where the future lies. Also of interest is the fact that contact with online editorial staff is now of greater importance than media contacts with print editorial teams. This is a paradigm shift and shows that the transformation in the communications market is in full swing.

What does this development mean for the work of communications agencies? Plenty, as the significant changes in the market have a knock-on effect on the requirements on PR agencies. Three success factors are of fundamental relevance for successful mastery of the new requirements.

1. Develop online expertise

Anyone who doesn’t know the market cannot advise his clients. A good consultant must not only know the complex online market extremely well but also be able to identify and evaluate relevant services quickly for the client. This goes hand-in-hand with knowledge of the latest technical innovations which consistently exert a strong influence on the online market in particular and are constantly transforming it.

2. Cross-media thinking

The boundaries between public relations, traditional advertising, marketing, online and mobile communication are becoming increasingly blurred. One contributor to this is the still young guild of bloggers who, alongside traditional journalism, practise a new form of expressing and forming opinions. In the development of an all-encompassing PR concept, channels from other disciplines must therefore also be incorporated. Cross-media networking of all communications possibilities is one of the most important strategic approaches to offering the client their required added value at the end of the day.

3. Intensify contact with online editors

Online editorial teams are upgrading. Also with regard to staff. Anyone who doesn’t know the right contact in the online world cannot get his specific message across. Just like in the print sector, a consultant’s personal contacts in the editorial teams are indispensable and becoming increasingly more important.

What does putting a broad-based cross-media communications campaign into practice mean? In 2008, muehlhausmoers developed the PR campaign 2BFriends – Fiesta Soulmate 2008 to introduce the new Ford Fiesta to the German market. The goal: the new and stylish Fiesta was to penetrate the lifestyle press and with it new and affluent target groups.

Ford and lifestyle? This combination of terms had seemed rather inappropriate in decades past. The challenge lay in conveying the new and stylish design of the Ford Fiesta with an innovative, modern campaign which would appeal to the target group.

The cross-media PR campaign took the market of women’s and lifestyle magazines by surprise and made the Ford Fiesta an eye-catcher – also in the media. With a community website which picked up subjects refreshingly in words, images, and videos appealing to the target group and closely involved visitors via participation in a competition, the campaign got through to the relevant print AND online editorial teams, thus surpassing its targeted reach many times over. The decisive success factor: the close interlocking of a web 2.0-based competition with the PR activity both in print and online and in targeted social bookmarking.

King of the online platform

Achieving the PR targets of a client is not always a question of launching major campaigns. Visible successes are always evident when PR measures are planned systematically and deployed in a calculated way. Disney’s musical The Lion King appointed muelhausmoers for its online PR. The goal: to significantly increase the salience of the musical, in particular on relevant online platforms.

On the basis of strategic topic management, muelhausmoers paved the way to numerous online editorial teams – successfully.

No matter how different the approaches in the two practical examples are – they demonstrate the importance of consistent orientation of PR work towards the online market. Clients’ individual communications targets are the pivotal issue in all PR activity. Competent and interdisciplinary consulting services from PR agencies are thus decisive for clients’ success.

This only happens when consultants have a sound knowledge of online communication. For agencies, this development in the online world presents new opportunities, as the internet and mobile growth markets have only just got going – now is the time to develop expertise and not miss your connection.



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The Author

Timo Hillbrecht

Timo Hillbrecht is a member of the management at full service agency muehlhausmoers kommunikation gmbh, which with offices in Cologne, Berlin, Wuppertal, and Darmstadt is one of Germany’s leading owner-operated communications agencies. The agency is a member of the Association of PR/Communications Consultancies (Gesellschaft Public Relations Agenturen, GPRA) and the Forum Corporate Publishing (FCP).

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