07/17/2013 05:03 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 05:12 EDT

How PR Is Extending Its Reach

The most common mistake companies make when engaging public relations in the marketing mix is trying to use it as a blunt instrument to simply sell to an audience. The discipline's power is its ability to build lasting relationships, and that holds even truer every day. However, the lack of being able to measure these relationships effectively remains its greatest challenge -- it's not impossible, but it is tough to do and in some cases, cost-prohibitive.

Today, this is changing. Not because the PR industry has figured out how to measure its ROI, but because the media landscape and the consumer, citizen and stakeholder is changing -- and fast! I'm not about to discuss the rise of social media, or take a shot at the advertising community. But I do want to issue a wakeup call on how to effectively use PR in a time where it's becoming increasingly more valuable.

The idea that you can push a message or thought in a controlled fashion and have the final word is long over. It's been taken over by conversations and debates between friends, family and peers. These conversations have always been influential, but now it's become the social norm to seek this out en mass before making a decision of solidifying an opinion. Further complicating the opportunity, individuals are recognizing and parlaying their multiple hats -- being the employee, the customer, the shareholder, the activist and the expert in their community -- all at once.

Storytelling has become a bit of a buzz word in the marketing realm. Everyone's doing it, but the fact remains that ideas generated by the PR discipline are inherently different than those of its marketing cousins. PR ideas are built to inspire conversation and discussion over a long period of time -- it has to resonate, be relevant and most of all newsworthy. I believe all marketing practitioners would agree that PR has many advantages the others don't, most namely, speed and credibility. These two factors alone allow for more vibrant conversations in real-time, with premise of having a continuing discussion -- like friends engage in the same issues, causes or interests.

With the growing trend in agile or newsroom style marketing, the public relations industry has the pure advantage of being able to deliver. But that advantage won't last forever, so the industry needs to get off its laurels. The key principle in PR that doesn't naturally exist in advertising is real time listening -- we can turn a policy, a complaint or poor experience into a big win for a company's reputation, but more so, a big win for all its customers with a longer term positive return to the bottom line.

Here's the moral of the story. The marketing mix is becoming more mixed and the traditional approach of having advertising lead the charge is no longer the way forward. In fact, the companies that inspire and often demand true collaboration are delivering the best work today. That's not to say advertising isn't involved and still may develop the insight or the creative idea that all the marketing partners work with, but that's not the tried and true model anymore. The fact is, insightful, strategic ideas can come from anywhere and more often than before, the most insightful ideas and the creative articulation is coming from public relations.

Amplification transcends paid and earned media, new and old. It doesn't matter where it starts, it matters that everyone involved is there at the beginning. So, if your company doesn't take advantage of collaboration, agility, true listening and credibility then you've probably been scratching your head already about why your standard approach is no longer delivering results. Start with expanding your knowledge and definition of PR and, more importantly, how you apply it.