The key role of public relations (PR) is to inform and persuade on one side, and defend brand reputation on another. For PR in 2015, these roles involve multiple channels and always-on listening, argues Chris Lee, head of digital knowledge at global integrated communications agency Grayling.

Integrated comms call for integrated skills. In 2015, the public’s decision-making journey to purchase and long-term brand loyalty  – whether for business products or basic consumer choices that we all make – involves a multi-channel experience.

It will involve search (with a 93% chance of that being via Google), it will include reading the media, could include social media and probably some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendation and referral.

Added to this multi-channel research journey we are in the midst of a hugely fragmented media scene. The influencers who led opinion when we started our careers may not have the same sway on decisions as before, as new publishers such as bloggers and even brands themselves enter the fray.

PR skills for 2015

In brief, an integrated communications specialist or team in 2015 needs to master:

  • Multi-channel planning
  • Social media listening, engagement and community management
  • Rich content creation and seeding
  • Multi-channel analytics tools
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Online advertising
  • Mobile developments
  • Online crisis comms
  • Influencer relations
  • Web design and user experience (UX)

It sounds like a daunting task as much of this list will have traditionally been handled by specialist departments. Now, that dynamic has changed, and reputation management and message spread needs to be managed across multiple touchpoints. We are all one tweet away from either winning a new customer or a potential crisis.

Organisations needs to be structured to be ‘social businesses’ so they can cope with both the opportunities and the threats.

Brands as publishers

Organisations used to rely on the media to be the trusted gateway to their audience. While traditional and emerging media are still vitally important to the brand’s overall reputation management and message reach, brands themselves have a big opportunity to lead here.

The media is under incredible pressure to produce content, so the more exclusive rich content – such as infographics, video, games, quizzes – that you can provide them with the better the chances are that the media will carry your story.

Brands should not limit themselves to providing influencers with content, but should regularly publish useful and engaging content themselves. Take a look at what Denmark’s Jyske Bank has been doing with web TV in the financial sector, becoming a rich content influencer in its own right.

Time to get fully integrated…

There has never been a more exciting time to be in integrated communications, and it is completely up to us as to how creative and imaginative we want to be in our story telling.

The tools exist for us to have a fully measurable, end-to-end impression of how our target audiences research, purchase, experience and advocate (or disparage) our product or service. We can see who influences them and target those Key Opinion Leaders with useful content to help do what we set out as our objectives: Inform, persuade, and defend reputations.