More so than ever, the world of PR is undergoing a huge transformation. PR agencies are competing with firms of complementary disciplines and PR professionals are finding that they need to constantly broaden their skill base and adopt a blend of practices across marketing, advertising, digital and content to remain integral to their client’s success. The antiquated perception of PR being only about relationships is a widely discussed topic as PR continues to rebrand itself through the trend for integration. This isn’t a new trend, but what is sometimes missing within the PR agency framework is the concept of real data and how this can be applied and maximised through PR.
This is where CRM comes in - customer relationship management – the practice of finding, retaining and building relationships with customers, often using sophisticated software to track this data, which in turn allows you to place their wants and needs at the forefront of a business. It may sound complex, but CRM at its core is really a mindset, and one that is not often considered as a necessary part of the PR professional’s toolkit. But why is this?
The shift from traditional PR to ‘Integrated’ has now driven a new blend of digital marketing which can, and should, sit alongside CRM. Both specialisms aim to create loyalty, a goal that PR professionals often leverage as we all know that loyal consumers can be a brand’s biggest ambassador. This strategy is typified when developing influencer or KOL engagement campaigns. So the same thinking applies to CRM where “the customer is king” rather than the “content”.
The PR industry itself is driving a lot of change in the demand for talent, but client expectations are also growing with this trend for ‘data-driven’ campaigns. So what is the perfect make up of today’s PR agency professional? In my mind it’s not enough to know how to pitch media, how to develop a story, how to project manage an event or execute a digital strategy. There has to be an added consideration and focus on how to motivate real consumer change and traction.
This means that CRM should not just sit in the Marketing team, or on the client side, but form a core part of the PR strategy, and regularly feed into it, to ensure that a clear ROI can be generated. Can coverage alone keep a restaurant full of diners, or a hotel full of travelers? Perhaps. But what should have more importance is creating a measurable way of checking in on the customer preferences and behavior change. That way you really see outcomes and understand if a campaign has been successful or not.
CRM can be implemented in many ways by tracking websites, social media, calls, chat, mail, email, and of course sales, which can all be integrated into a CRM solution. This means that it’s scalable, so benefits businesses small and large. Its true many global firms will already have robust CRM solutions and even data scientists to manage the process and output.
But for smaller firms and businesses in the service sectors, such as restaurants or boutique hotels, implementing CRM across all your customer touchpoints and aligning with your PR strategy will allow an easier way to identify the best customers and thus develop a stronger strategy to get more customers like them.
In real terms adopting CRM thinking for PR can be fairly simple. For example with owned media such as a website, the content within the site should of course tell a story and give more depth and understanding, but the real objective will always be to entice visitors to engage - sign up for a newsletter, share on social, or fill out a booking form etc. So you see the principals of PR and CRM are not dissimilar. Once you start to utilise CRM data, this insight is enhanced by what you know about what has worked before and this data will help you to refine your strategy to gain the best results.
We’ve been told over and over again that the PR industry must become more data focused, and that data should be at the core of our PR efforts. So it makes sense that CRM thinking should be applied within PR to connect us with insight from this marketing technology that brings all pieces together. The sooner PR professionals adopt this mindset, the quicker they will evolve with and for their clients.
Nicola Oldfield is group managing director at GHC Asia, a member of the Council of PR Firms of Hong Kong.