Building a Bridge Across the Communications Divide: Ebiquity’s PRSA International 2015 Study

The explosion of social media, the evolving publisher landscape, shifting budgets, and increased importance placed on ROI is driving a sea of change in the world of marketing, communications, and advertising. Traditionally considered distinct and disparate disciplines, the trend towards integrating these teams and offering a joint, cross-practice approach to brand management and promotion is growing.  
Subsequently, inter-disciplinary agencies are booming as a result of brands looking to approach publicity and protection in a holistic way. In addition, the growth of native advertising and content marketing, which continue to disrupt historical publishing models, is another driver contributing to this trend. Often disguised as earned media, these new forms of promotional content further blur the lines between PR, advertising, and marketing. But, what does that mean for the future of these distinct disciplines? 
The move to full integration
As the paid, earned, shared, owned (PESO) model -- developed and championed by Gini Dietrich -- gains awareness and adoption, PR practitioners need to start asking themselves if PR as its own distinct discipline will continue to exist as we know it. To gain some insight into this idea, the Ebiquity team conducted an onsite survey at the 2015 PRSA International Conference. Of the 100 attendees polled, 43% of the respondents believe the PR discipline is unlikely to exist as a stand-alone communications function in the next 10 years. However, given how rapidly the PR industry is evolving, will full integration really take 10 years?  
In one area, the response was overwhelming with 89% of respondents claiming they felt pressure from their organizations to work with the other departments in a more integrated way. Based on this response, it could be inferred that a transformation needs to be considered on a larger scale. Practitioners may have to ask themselves what skills they need today to keep pace with industry change, how they can define success under this new paradigm, and what tools are required to align in their mission.
Overcoming key challenges
So, what’s stopping us from embracing this new integrated approach to communications? According to the Ebiquity survey, only 25% of PR practitioners surveyed claim to work closely in an integrated manner with marketing and advertising. The survey also found that aligning metrics and KPIs (70%), fiefdoms/reporting silos (62%), and greater ROI scrutiny (60%) are considered the three biggest barriers to integration. Overcoming challenges related to measurement may require PR to go beyond the comfort zone of metrics related to outputs (e.g., clip counts) and outtakes (e.g., impressions) and think in terms of outcomes and audience action.
But, how do communications teams succeed at what 3/4 of the respondents seem to struggle with? Similarly to all successful campaigns, it likely starts with storytelling. Whether leveraging paid, earned, or owned media, good storytelling means finding a “hook” that can be carried over a variety of channels. To do this effectively means working collaboratively from the start by establishing clear roles and providing consistent messaging across the appropriate channels. A joined up effort may mean getting the brand team involved to handle content for the owned media channels, the marketing team to handle native advertising, the advertising team to handle the paid social posts, and the PR team to handle the press engagement.     
Technology will continue to drive the convergence of marketing, advertising, and PR; this inevitability requires a change in how these functions combine to achieve successful campaigns. Working in a more integrated manner demands a consensus on roles, objectives, and the definition of success. Those teams that can establish unifying principles, agree on performance metrics, and create a process for testing and refining their campaigns will ultimately come out on top as these worlds converge. Therein lies the bridge where communications disciplines integrate -- if harnessed effectively, it can be pure magic.
Thanks to the survey participants and PRSA International for the insightful event! 
For more information, please contact 
The PRSA International Conference is a yearly event attended by more than 2,000 senior professionals across 150 industries. The conference is dedicated to helping public relations practitioners respond to "real-time" opportunities and challenges, while also addressing trends and new technologies.
Disclaimer: The onsite survey was conducted by members of the Ebiquity team to 100 attendees of the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta on November 8-10, 2015. Respondents represented a variety of roles in PR, Public Affairs, and Corporate Communications from agency and corporate backgrounds. 
By Rebeca Denny
About the Author:

Rebeca is Managing Director, Market Intelligence North America at Ebiquity.

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