There are some who believe that public relations (PR) is dead. Social media killed it. Influencer marketing and the advent of everyone-as-publisher killed it. You can’t get earned media anymore because everyone now has their hand out. You have to pay or you don’t play.
While there’s a lot of truth to the underlying factors behind the assertion, the assertion itself is far from accurate. PR is not dead. In fact, it’s alive and kicking. And perhaps more relevant for brands now more than ever.
Brandwatch released a report this week of 101 times brands went viral in 2018. (Free download after filling out a form.) It used artificial intelligence to analyze social media posts and how quickly and widely those were circulated on social media to list the most viral brand moments of the year. The list is an interesting, if not somewhat expected, compilation of the moments we all remember and say, “Oh yeah! That was cool!” Or shocking. Or interesting. Or sad. Or whatever.
The most explosive viral moment on the list? Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Believe in Something’ advertisement for Nike. Makes sense. It generated 8.2 million conversations online. Sure, you can pick apart the definition of “vitality” with it. Kaepernick’s ad was a fully supported advertisement campaign from Nike featuring celebrities and such. But still … when it hit, it exploded the online conversation. That’s viral.
But when you review the types of brand-related viral moments, there is a clear winner: Public relations.
Why PR Won Out
Almost half — 48 — of the 101 posts that Brandwatch’s analysis surfaced were viral moments either produced by good public relations (19 total press announcements interesting enough to go viral) or crises requiring smart public relations to handle (29 total issues where brands found themselves in trouble). Advertising campaigns and publicity stunts followed as the second most populated category with 27 posts while event-related bursts of conversations was a distant third.
So what does it take to “go viral?” Apparently treating customers like crap or doing something racist. That’s right! The leading indicator of vitality is whether or not people were bitching about you online. So having that crisis communications plan in place — typically created, managed and executed by the public relations team — is of critical importance in today’s brand landscape.
But on the positive side, issuing new product and feature announcements and working with the press to stimulate buzz around your brand works, too. The 19 posts that I categorized as press announcements included Apple’s iPhone XS launch — viral simply because of the sheer volume of tech heads that talk about all things Apple — as well as Nintendo’s announcement Smash Bros was coming to the Switch, Wal-Mart raising its minimum age to purchase guns and Nike’s release of the Nigeria World Cup kit, which stimulated almost 300,000 online conversations.
Sure, ad campaigns like the Kaepernick stance from Nike and IHOP’s odd name-change to IHOB generated buzz, too. And Wendy’s appeared on the list twice for it’s brutal grilling of competitors on Twitter. But the data doesn’t lie: Good PR does a brand good in today’s “Give Me Viral” landscape.
What This Means For Brands
The fact that public relations can be tied to the success (or failure) of almost half the top viral brand moments of 2018 just solidifies the smart decision making many brands have employed for years. Integrating public relations from the beginning of the communications and marketing process, ensuring the PR team is intrinsically connected to the advertising, marketing and social media arms of the brand and even putting PR in the driver’s seat when the situation warrants is what many of these top brands do.
Integrated marketing means that each discipline is, indeed, integrated. And each will rise and fall in importance based on the issue or opportunity at hand. When a crisis hits, you need PR to be front and center to handle it. And you need PR to be social savvy since most of today’s brand communication has some manifestation in the social space.
When you have product news and information, an event or publicity opportunity, the team that is best suited to strike the match of vitality is, in fact, the PR team. You can put all the messages in front of consumers you want, but going to consumers through the media gives you a better chance of reaching more audiences in an organized fashion to more efficiently fuel multiple ignition points for vitality. This gives you a better chance of achieving it than hoping your social media followers get it and go.
Put PR in a position of driving the social ship — or at least co-piloting with your social engagement team — to design a rollout strategy for announcements. The two units can then collaborate to ensure your fans have the news to turn and tell people about you, but the media has the ability to enable big chunks of audiences to do the same, too.
PR is Not Dead
Public relations is different in 2018 than it was even three or four years ago. And it’s certainly far different than it was when I started in the business in the mid-1990s. The media landscape is just a different animal now that everyone is a publisher. And yes, most of those everyone publishers don’t understand the old way of working with PR folks who can feed them information to make their content better. They only understand that brands will pay people like them to publish content that helps them. And yay, capitalism.
But that doesn’t mean PR is dead. It simply means the way brands execute good PR well has changed, too.
Get the full report of 101 brands that went viral in 2018 at Brandwatch. It’s a free download.