The role of a public relations today has changed from what it was a decade ago. Interestingly, in the same way that the Internet has completely changed how we book airline reservations, execute stock trades and write letters, its impact on journalism and public relations has also been nothing short of phenomenal. Those of you who have worked in public relations during this transformation might now think the industry has spiraled completely out of control! Some might even argue that it is now at risk of losing its relevance.
I come from a different perspective. To start, I wasn’t a journalist prior to my current role in the industry. Instead, I began my career in finance as an accountant. After moving my way up the corporate ladder, I found a passion for marketing, which is a discipline I have now been practicing for nearly 15 years.
From what I can gather about the “early” days of PR, strict lines were drawn between what news was published, how it was distributed as well as the role that the newspapers and magazines played in getting the story out to the general public. For example, press releases used to be written just for editors and others working at news publications. It was then at their discretion as to what was printed and deemed sufficiently “newsworthy” to publish.
The Internet changed all of that. Now anyone can post any press release on a website, and with a little effort, can get their release picked up by other aggregator sites. In the end, their target market can find out about their news by simply doing a Google or Yahoo! Search by keywords. This is a completely different news distribution model, and has transformed the role of today’s Public Relations practitioner.
Given the relative ease of publishing content, the value of a public relations professional has now become more about managing that content, driving the direction of what new stories can be told about the topic as well as getting the “right” placements that matter most in the eyes of the public. After all, not all placements are created equal.
It’s a New World
With the breakdown in structure of the “old” model, traditional news organizations have lost some of their power – many more approaches now exist to tell us the news, ranging from tweets to YouTube to a myriad of news aggregation sites and the search engines. But, as the dust settles, I would argue that the traditional news media still have a “trump” card that should be played, and that of trusting their experience and knowledge to report the news accurately and fairly. Unfortunately, it appears that some organizations are not able to embrace this philosophy or execute upon it with 100% success.
We are all quite familiar with the recent events transpiring during the Boston bombing incident on April 16 where false news reports had to be retracted, based on the desire for CNN to be the “first” to break an angle of the story. Clearly this type of news reporting is less than ideal. But, on the upside is the fact that nearly anyone can write about a news event, or a story they deem as newsworthy. And, those with camera phones have given us unbelievable footage of news right as it is happening.
Meanwhile, from a marketer’s perspective, this changing of the guard brings new opportunities for “earned” vs. “paid” placements. It is amazing the amount of exposure that is now possible by applying Search Engine Optimization, cross linking and blog support. Alternatively, from an “end user’s” perspective, I sometimes struggle with how to best stay current with the day’s events as well as knowledge on my craft. But, I am getting better, and the proliferation of smart phones has certainly made it much easier to stay on top of the news that matters most to me.
The question to ask is what is your objective? Here is where my thinking like a marketer has helped my career in public relations. I continue to filter my actions into what can best support my client’s or company’s public relations objectives. If a goal is to position a company as a thought leader in a particular industry, then those are the only types of stories I should pursue. My “news” will then be focused on reinforcing that objective, be it through press releases, contributed articles or quotes in third-party stories, etc. In this regard, public relations is the same as it has always been. What has changed is the rules. The number of venues, distribution channels and publication options has increased exponentially, which is both a blessing and a curse. The complexity and volume of work has skyrocketed, but so too have the opportunities for success. Given all of this incredible increase in complexity, focus has instead turned on just getting a story out and getting it placed. The journalistic quality of articles has sometimes been given a back seat.
Is this a best case scenario? Perhaps not. For me, my goal is to strive to be better, including how I write and the quality of my stories. But, in the end, it is all about getting the word out there so my prospective customers have a favorable impression of my company, ideally just before being engaged with a sales representative from my company. Improved, positive familiarity with the brand helps to facilitate a better sales opportunity and a higher likelihood of closing. Those public relations professionals that embrace this new role and focus on achieving this objective will do well. Those that are frustrated with this transformation and still public relations as being more akin to being a news reporter might not be as well suited for the role of today’s public relations professionals.
Please let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other comments to add to this topic!
Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business model adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.