“Digital is for PR, not for PA” – three reasons why it ain’t so

I hear some variation of this all the time: we don’t need digital, this is just a policy issue; digital isn’t relevant, we’re not trying to reach a mass audience. And so forth.

No – digital is always relevant; it’s the degree that changes. In short, here are three reasons why:

  1. Digital isn’t only social media. People often think that being active online always involves 2-way engagement but I’m perfectly happy to admit that in many cases, Brussels issues are such that online engagement isn’t likely to happen, for a number of reasons. However, policy-makers and others who matter, no matter how niche an issue is, still use the web to conduct research. So content and search are always relevant.
  2. Beyond content and search, the engagement piece is increasingly important. On some issues (ICT especially) Twitter advocacy is already fairly mature, and it’s just a question of time before the same becomes the case in other sectors.
  3. Lastly, there’s the fact that the line between PR and PA is blurring: issues are increasingly influenced by players beyond Brussels, meaning that success in PA will depend on a government relations “plus” approach involving more audiences, across Europe, and across channels (including digital).

3 thoughts on ““Digital is for PR, not for PA” – three reasons why it ain’t so”

  1. Just an observation on point 2, it is clear ICT is quite involved online and more specifically in social media. I also see pharma coming to maturity very quickly despite the heavy regulatory environment and I know that some automotive brands are quite active on the PA/corp com front already (eg. Toyota)…And I am pretty sure VW will join pretty quickly after the Greenpeace campaign building on their advertising and turning it against them http://vwdarkside.com/

    Having said that, I think we can fairly say that across industries, NGO’s have been ahead of corporations in adopting latest digital channels in most of the case for years already. The VW story is a good example, the original campaign is great, a concept good enough for the audience to share it using all “share” features available. Greenpeace did not re-invent the wheel, they built from the existing concept and empowered it with networking features (more than just sharing) such as the “join the rebellion” call to action. Having done a very quick analysis, it is quite obvious that the lack of web presence/focus from VW aside from the actual campaign (I am not talking about marketing) does limit their capacity to reply effectively despite the many people out there that would be ready to engage aside VW. VW pushed a message and built a viral mechanism, Greenpeace engage the audience and made people joining and supporting a cause (probably at a much lower cost looking at the production style!).

    Corporations observe latest digital channels, looking at it as the latest teenager activity and wait to take a hit before taking action. The only way to change this is to proactively build presence and embrace these new channels and being agile about it. Join a new channel, test it and leave it if it is not worth it. Check the Hyperth!nker book from http://www.ZN.be to get guided through what will be your online journey: http://blog.zn.be/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/online-journey7.pdf

    1. In the Brussels-PA space specifically I’d argue that engagement, defined as multiple stakeholders conversing online, is only happening in ICT (and hardly that extensively). Pharma has the EFPIA blog, so industry is represented somewhat, but what about the institution side? Individual companies? Consumers, patients etc? Nothing yet, I’d say. As for NGOs, I’d agree generally, but for Brussels specifically, NGOs are unimpressive online. They were innovative a few years ago as they used basic websites and email when no one else did. But now? Nothing special. Often, I’d bracket them with the corporate PA pros who are policy folk, not communicators, so know their stuff on policy but don’t necessarily master the art of comms, whether on or offline. Again, this observation is relevant to Brussels only – certainly if you look at corporate comms more broadly, the picture changes.

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