Is digital the be all, and end all?

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The economy is cyclical, and every 10 years or so, we experience a recession. I’ve lived (and worked) through a few of them.

In the past, when times were tough, companies would typically reduce advertising spend (paid media) and increase public relations (PR) spend (editorial/earned media).

However, this was not the case during Covid-19. Throughout the numerous lockdowns and for months after, digital seemed to be the best medium to reach audiences whose movements were restricted.

So naturally, businesses turned to the digital platform to drive sales, while PR was predominantly deployed to address crises, issues, and internal communication.

Some 96 per cent of the 140 respondents to Centriq PR’s Communications Pulse Survey, conducted at the end of 2020, revealed that organisations had changed the way they communicated with stakeholders since Covid-19 hit earlier that year.

Forty-nine per cent ranked sales and marketing as the most important function in their organisation, followed by operations (44 per cent), finance (39 per cent), and technology (38 per cent).

The move to digital had already begun pre-Covid; the lockdowns only served to turn the captive public more and more towards digital consumption.

Digital marketing became a very sought-after service. Which is all well and good.

If you want to drive immediate sales growth, paid media is known to give the best, and fastest results.

But what of building, and maintaining corporate image and reputation? Long-term stakeholder engagement? Environmental, social, and governance? Sustainable Development Goals?

This is where PR comes into play.

It is very worrying to see that many businesses today are more focused on nearer-term sales goals.

I do understand that businesses need to sell their products or services to survive, but I would think that ensuring long-term survival is equally important, particularly in a highly competitive world.

We received a couple of PR briefs recently. They were good briefs; provided helpful background information, clearly outlined and quantified the clients’ objectives, and even included a budget. The only thing that wasn’t so great was the requirement to include (top-tier) influencers in the PR budget.

I’m a firm believer in the saying, “There’s a time and place for everything”. In the PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media) communications model, influencers clearly fall under ‘paid’ media, for the simple reason that the influencers are paid to endorse and promote products/services.

What was mind-boggling was the requirement for the influencers to be ‘top tier’, on a very limited budget.

Clearly, the organisations were unaware of how much top-tier influencers command for their services. This led me to believe that the communication strategy was not clearly thought through, and influencers were added to the mix purely because they believed that it was the popular thing to do.

It’s dangerous to just follow others blindly. The strategic thing to do is to let the communications experts counsel on how a limited budget can be used to get you the best bang for your buck.

A seasoned businessman once said to me, “For every RM10 of my sales and marketing budget, I spend RM6 on PR and RM4 on advertising”.

Needless to say, he was one of my favourite clients.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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