PR News Q&A With Bonin Bough: Is Your Organization Digitally Fit?

Bonin Bough

Bonin Bough, global head of digital for PepsiCo, is not shy about insisting that PR professionals must play a lead role in integrating social media into their organizations' business operations. It will bode well for their own careers, and for their companies. He will discuss this theme in his keynote address, "Digital Fitness: How PR Pros Can Embed Digital Into Their Organization's DNA," at PR News’ Facebook Conference on Dec. 1 in at Washington, D.C.'s National Press Club.
PR News: Does the rise of the social Web represent an opportunity for PR professionals to reposition themselves within corporate and nonprofit organizations?

Bonin Bough: Yes, I 100% believe that. I grew up in digital marketing shops running digital media and have performed every role. My first agency was a digital production practice within a PR firm, and the majority of our clients were strictly digital, while others were shared with the PR team. These agency of record engagements were big clients such as Kellogg’s, Novartis and Citi. The second group I ran was a bit more integrated with the broader communications team. So I have seen it from the inside, and I can tell you that the core skills of communicators—storytelling, authentic communications and the art of persuasion—are critically important.

At the same time, I often feel communications agencies and teams confine themselves to a specific segment within social. They don’t necessarily take the opportunity to lead. PR agencies are not adapting quickly enough, they are not thinking broadly enough, they do not understand the stakes. Social media success depends on relationship building and genuine, sustained authentic engagement—the core competencies that PR is built on. But it also requires a deep understanding of consumers and media. It is not too late for PR to capture the massive opportunities in social media, but the industry needs to kick into high gear right now.

As communications experts, [we] have a right to lead strategy in digital and build the relationships while delivering messaging, but oftentimes we fall short because we don't know the tools and have the measurement capabilities. Too often we view “social media” as a discrete practice or discipline when in fact digital media has changed every facet of marketing communications.

PR News: What is at stake if communicators don't seize this moment?

Social media used to be lumped in with larger communications programs, but more and more of that budget is being taken by specialty agencies. Clients are starting to recognize—before the agencies, in many cases—that social media requires particular expertise and know-how. If conventional PR outfits don't offer that, they will get it from new, specialized players. Already this is happening with the huge growth of social media agencies. That was their lunch. Digital did it to ad shops, so history is a good predictor of the future. Again, it isn't too late to win that confidence (and business) back, but if communicators don't seize the moment, the fastest growing piece of communications’ budgets is going to slip out of reach.

PR News: How can communicators best prove the need for investment in social media activity to top executives?

Bough: If you are faced with a situation in which a client wants you to justify social media as part of a communications program, you really might as well walk out the door. Having worked on the agency side for many years, I know that isn't realistic, but the point is that by now the importance of these platforms should be self-evident. If an executive doesn't believe that, tell her to ask her neighbors where they go to see pictures of their kids, or who broke the news of the death of Osama bin Laden or [about] the technology that fostered the organizations behind the Egyptian revolution.

Don't miss Bonin Bough's enthusiastic call to action at PR News' Facebook Conference on Dec. 1.