Although public relations has been considered a profession for 100+ years, it is definitely a late bloomer. And only now is it entering puberty.
After a quiescent period during which it idled on press releases and media relations for years, PR is behaving like a giddy adolescent: all abuzz with new-found energy as it embraces social media, content marketing and — horror of horrors –- paid media, AKA “advertising.”
Say hello to the new PR, as it evolves to become a hybrid of paid, owned, earned and shared media.
Yet, as befits PR’s teenage status, its identify remains in flux as it clings to its old glory of media relations and listens for the siren call of press placements. In the “between” stages, PR pros try on new styles of tweeting, blogging, sponsored content and advertising…but the glue connecting new and old tactics isn’t secure. Things don’t flow; they stutter.
PR people (myself included) are often to blame since we overplay our media relations skills. Visit any PR agency site and you will see an assortment of media outlets proudly trotted out as evidence of the firm’s success.
There’s nothing wrong with showing off the trophies…except that this act furthers the misperception that that’s all there is.
“The biggest myth about PR today is that it’s publicity and media relations. That’s part of PR but it’s not the whole of PR which is so much more than that.”
To understand where we are and where we’re heading, let’s take a minute to look at what, exactly, PR is.
PR traditionally has been focused on a brand’s reputation – building, maintaining and protecting it. That hasn’t changed. Where the new moxie comes from is all the channels and platforms that now allow PR practitioners to amplify media stories, be their own publishers, measure results and truly be accountable.
Diane Schwartz, SVP and Group Publisher of PR News, told me:
“You’ll find that the lines between marketing and PR or between PR and advertising are blurring, especially in the age of social media. There are PR executives who are making media buying decisions and marketing executives who are handling media relations.”
All well and good, but where does that leave PR practitioners? To shed some light, here are four areas where PR folks need to focus…
# 1. Content Marketing
PR professionals should leap, not just hop, onto the content marketing trend. Half of US companies, according to a recent survey by SkilledUp.com, plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2015. Yet, 42% of companies report lacking the skill sets to implement content marketing. “We (PR people) need to act as a brand newsroom with all the skills required to publish successfully,” says Falkow.
#2. Paid Media
Paid media has long been the ogre in the room – that discomfiting critter best left to advertising pros – while PR stood for “free” media. However, today, some far-sighted agencies are embracing paid or at least marrying their PR services with their advertising counterparts. That’s because, without the added oomph of paid placements, they cannot maximize visibility.
#3. Strategic Measurement
It’s all well and good to measure, but the key is what you’re measuring and what you’re doing with it.
For years, PR people measured outcomes like media clips, and we were judged on that. “While clips are fine,” according to Falkow, “there is so much more than that. What did the media exposure result in? We have to learn to set goals that support the business objectives and track how we are performing against those goals.”
Or, as Schwartz says, “You need to understand key performance indicators and how to apply what you’ve measured to move the needle.”
#4. Strategic Social
Social today is often viewed as tactical and too often seen as a broadcast channel instead of a conversation. That means understanding who your influencers are in your space.
“People are posting comments and opinions,” said Falkow. “The PR team has to learn to actually communicate, not just broadcast.”
Ready to embrace the next stage of public relations?
I’d love to hear how you are doing so in the comments below.
Wendy Marx is president of Marx Communications, an award-winning B2B PR and digital marketing agency. Her firm specializes in helping SMBs become well-known industry brands and dramatically transform their business through public relations and content marketing. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter @wendymarx.