Traditional PR in the digital r(evolution)

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Consider this: when was the last time you sat down to watch the evening news on TV? Or went out of your way to buy a newspaper? If you’re taking a long pause to consider those questions, firstly you’re not the only one, and secondly, it’s a sign of the dramatic shift in the way we consume what was once a staple in most homes, writes Thrishni Subramoney, Head of Corporate at Eclipse Communications.

If you want to see proof of the trend, look no further than the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s latest figures. While free, local newspapers are growing at a steady clip, most commercial print publications are either just about holding steady or seeing declines.

More than 2 million people still tune in to the Nguni news bulletins on SABC 1, followed by some 1.2 million to the English bulletin on ETV (according to the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa’s latest figures). While these figures are quite strong, I’d venture to say that in the days before small screens became ubiquitous, these figures were quite a bit higher.

Those small screens have made all the difference. We are Social statistics show that there are 108-million mobile phone connections in South Africa – that’s nearly twice as many cellphone connections as people. It’s changed the way we navigate our surroundings, the way we communicate, and the way we consume the news. So, for PR professionals – what do you do about it?

Digital communities

A unique phenomenon of this age of information has been the sometimes peculiar communities that have sprung up in digital and social media spaces. People congregate over shared interests. Admittedly, while we’ve seen powerful social movements coalesce, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, bringing important, progressive topics to the fore, there have been some less positive gatherings (flat-earthers and alt-right groups, for instance).

Point is, whatever the interest group you’re after, chances are you’ll find an already-formed online community around it. This means, finding strong micro and nano influencers are often worth the effort. And, hyper-targeted campaigns can yield sometimes more meaningful results than a big splash.

Traditional media holds power in a digital age

The digital shift may have hit newsrooms hard in recent years, but news organisations and journalists still command loyal audiences, even on social media platforms. News24 has more than five million followers on Twitter, eNCA has more than three million and SABC News has more than two million. Journalists are similarly well-followed. Take a look at your favourite reporters online, and depending on how active they are, it’s very likely that you’ll find they have significant followings.

This is likely because even in a time when all of us can turn on our phones and broadcast from wherever we are, many of us still prefer getting our information from well-established sources, who we regard as being more credible or rigorous.  
Think 360-degree campaigns

So, a key part of riding the r(evolution) is thinking about campaigns holistically. The best PR campaigns in this era hit traditional, digital and real-world channels equally hard. This is best done at the concept stage, plotting out tactics across the spectrum.

Have you considered TikTok, for instance, where communities are coalescing around everything from books to lifestyle to education? Have you thought about podcasts that are gaining more traction in South Africa?  

What’s worth remembering is that while platforms have changed, the factors that determine the success of a campaign remain fundamentally unchanged. You still need a clear sense of purpose for your campaign, you’re still looking for a strong creative concept that pulls it all together, and what will win out is a storyline that’s relatable enough to strike a chord, yet creative enough to cut through the noise.