Public relations has changed substantially over the past 5 years or so and will continue to evolve at a blinding pace.
Not surprisingly, PR needs to develop critical new skills to stay effective and relevant in this fast-changing environment. No longer is it sufficient to simply write press releases and call reporters. The advent — and astonishing growth — of social media channels has changed the game entirely. This is true for large conglomerates, start-ups and everything in between.
The good news is this has created valuable, new opportunities, particularly for organizations that because of their size or industry are having difficulty securing traditional media coverage. Opportunities exist for those willing to simply broaden their mindsets and acquire a handful of important skills.
I’ve come up with a Top 5 list of these skills, which should position any PR effort to be successful today:
Learn to Produce Content. Any good PR program today must create content as well as contribute to stories produced by traditional media outlets. Instead of simply being quoted, PR needs to develop stories that underscore its company’s expertise, products and values. These can be written pieces that appear on blogs and websites, audio stories that live as podcasts, videos that are presented online, and screencasts that are delivered in any number of ways. The content must be compelling and professional. Fortunately, new technology has made this much less expensive to do. For example, inexpensive video cameras, recording equipment and software can turn a small PR operation into a successful studio.
Work to Build Audiences. The big difference between PR today and PR of the past is the need to build audiences. In the old days, getting a story into, say, The Wall Street Journal guaranteed you a potential audience of about 1 million readers. That’s pretty hard to compete with. However, we need to recognize that not every reader looks at every story. And of those who read a story, not every person is a potential buyer or influencer for the organization being mentioned. The ability to build new audiences — whether blog subscribers, YouTube viewers, podcast listeners, Twitter followers or Facebook friends — is very, very powerful as each member of the new audience has chosen to be there. They are the right people. And they have signed up to hear what you have to say.
Engage with Your Audiences. Once these audiences are created, PR needs to engage with them regularly. We need to respond to blog comments, be active on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and comment back on ideas that come from those who watch our videos and listen to our podcasts. In the same way that we build relationships with reporters at traditional media outlets, we have to build relationships with our new audiences as well; we can’t just throw our content out there and forget it. This requires a different mindset and different approach. It’s not hard to do and needn’t be a scary thing. We just need to make an effort to do it.
Eliminate PRspeak. The idea that we should talk to our new audiences in the same, rigid, stay-on-message-at-all-costs way that PR has traditionally dealt with language has to be unlearned. Why? The old approach was designed to allow key messages to survive through the reporters and editors who worked with the information and find their way into the eventual story. There’s no need for this when you’re talking directly to your audiences. In fact, it sounds so inauthentic that audiences reactive negatively to it. Just think of what bad politicians sound like when they’re not saying much at all. That’s what we want to avoid. Instead, we should be honest, direct and real. We’ll be rewarded greatly for our efforts.
Recycle Your Content. Since we have so many new channels to work with, it’s foolish to develop great content and use it just once. Instead, we need to reuse our good ideas across numerous channels, each reaching a different segment of our audience. If an idea makes a good podcast episode, why not blog about it as well? If there’s a good video to be made, why not post it on your Facebook page and link to it in your Tweets? This is the key to social media success and, indeed, many of the newest tools available allow for cross-posting to different channels. Hootsuite, a Twitter client, allows us to post to multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook and LinkedIn all at once. Posterous, a blogging platform, allows for autoposting to a host of social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr.
Is there a simple conclusion here? Yes. Like the Nike commercials said, “Just Do It.” It’s not hard to adapt to this new world and each of the above 5 skills is pretty simple to develop and execute. Yes, it takes a little time to build new audiences, but once you’ve got them what a great value they’ll provide over time.
Or think about it this way. With the old PR approach, if reporters didn’t use your story pitch, that was it. Game over. But if you produce your own content, it will reach as large an audience as you can create. Then, it can be shared and indexed on the web for additional folks to enjoy as well. There’s simply no way to be shut out in this game. You’ll always score points. It’s just a matter of how many.