Public Relations: Old School or New School

 By Karen Brokaw and Barry Siedell

In our new digital world, we sometimes forget to shake hands, meet for coffee or just get to know each other. So where is the social part of our business?  This got us to thinking about PR.  The public relations we used to know was the “social” part of marketing and advertising. We built relationships with editors and publishers, for example, becoming their source for news.

Do we still need PR? We have lots of questions about a marketing discipline that has aged well with time. What does PR offer the advertiser that social media doesn’t?  How can we integrate marketing strategies of blogging or other social media with PR?  And finally, what is PR today?

A standard definition of public relations includes ongoing activities to ensure the overall company or brand has a strong public image. Public relations activities include helping the public to understand the company and its products, or educate them on unique strengths and benefits.

So our big question is: What is PR today?

One answer, of course, is that the social media are high-tech tools that we as marketing communications practitioners can use to reach our target audiences. We have moved from a mass communications world dominated by print (newspapers and magazines) and electronic (TV and radio) to a highly-targeted one-to-one scenario using cell phones, smart phones, and who knows what else. These social media give us the tools to individualize our messages to audiences who communicate one-to-one all day long. More than ever before, our audiences are in charge of what messages they want to hear or see.

There is no denying that the way we communicate with our target audiences has changed a lot in the last few years. No longer are we just throwing messages out in the market place, then waiting to see if they stick. We are targeting more precisely than ever. We can even follow consumers online and send them targeted messages based on the sites they visit. But that just means that our PR efforts need to be targeted, too. 

Really, our function hasn’t changed. The tools we use have. We still must develop relationships with writers and editors to help us get our client’s message out to the customer base. But the good editors know that their audiences and their tools are changing, too. Since no two target markets are the same, we–and they–need to adapt. For example, one press release written to make it easy for newspaper editors may need to be re-organized, re-written and re-thought for other media.

It may be more important than ever to help editors, publishers and bloggers see the benefit of the story for their readers.  Everyone’s time is limited, so we may need to do more talking, more research, more promoting of story ideas than ever before. This was always important, but now, we have so many more outlets.  Everyone is scrambling to offer the best content–and most importantly–relevant content. What buttons do we need to push that will break through the clutter of content and really mean something to the reader?  It will most likely be necessary to use old fashioned human contact in order to push these buttons.  Sometimes we just need to actually talk to someone, instead of just emailing the information.  Building relationships with key writers, editors, publishers or bloggers seems to be unchanged in today’s world; it is still one of the most important elements to a good public relations strategy.   Some things don’t change with technology; we still can use some good, old fashioned human contact.

 It seems to me that traditional PR can compliment viral and social media strategies.  Using social media along with public relations to get consumers talking online or in person should be the goal–a high-tech version of “word of mouth.” As marketers we need to make sure that we mold all communication strategies together.  If we get a media outlet to run a story, do we remember to post a link to it on our Facebook page?  How can we get our Brand Ambassadors or our Facebook friends to help us spread the word?  We should always be thinking how can we use this publicity to get us even more publicity or WOM?

Now what about blogging? Is this really a social media strategy?  Or is it an extension of a Public Relations strategy?  We are starting to think that blogging for folks like us, who are trying to offer information, and become known as a thought leader, is really a public relations strategy.  For those of you who work with brands or companies that blog,  (restaurants, for example), isn’t your blog really just a more personal version of the old- fashioned press release?  The blog for a local restaurant that offers information about recipes or unique produce or a special wine they may have for a limited time, is a press release targeted to an interested audience. 

If your company has a website, are you blogging?  If not, do you write press releases and post them under a news tab?  Why not take it one step further and expand the news release, offer more information or more insight and turn the press release into a blog that can reach your customers.  We do want to encourage the social aspect, though, so don’t forget to encourage your readers to share this information along to friends who would be interested. Make it easy for them to do this by providing them with the links.  

Today’s world is content-driven. People want information now, when they need it–and they don’t want to work hard to get it.  So we need to use public relations activities, including press releases, sponsorships and yes, blogs, to offer relevant content to our target audience. 

Public Relations strategies are still important in our fast-paced world and it may be the most “social” of all strategies. And it may still require a phone call, a lunch or even a hand-written thank-you note.

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