In the marketing mix, public relations has always carried the most credibility for a business. Advertising was often the easiest way to raise an organization’s profile, but it did not build trust. Today, it is trusted even less, and consumers have control in the era of preference marketing. That makes PR more important than ever, but PR has changed dramatically over the last several years.
Here’s a look at the main areas of seismic activity:
1. The era of Caller ID
Nobody picks up the phone anymore. This is a tremendous challenge, because the reality remains that reporters can dismiss emails so easily. The digerati will tell you that there’s no need for voice communications anymore, but they’re overstating the case. Merely emailing news to connect with a reporter is incredibly difficult. This happens with our team every week; we send out compelling emails with our clients’ news, and don’t hear from the reporter until we call them, and that’s when they express interest. So your PR firm or internal communications folks need to be able to break through this barrier. That means they need to have great connections to the media, and it means they have to be able to connect with journalists as peers, not kids doing some telemarketing.
2. The media has shrunk
Obviously, staffs at media outlets have gotten smaller over the last decade. Reporters and editors are stretched thinner than ever before. On top of that, they spend a significant chunk of each day reading stories about their cratering industry. So, getting them to pay attention to anything is more difficult than ever before. However, this is not just a challenge; it’s also an opportunity. If your PR team can create compelling storylines and remarkable content – in essence produce the story for the reporter by giving them background information and multiple voices to interview – you can rise above the clutter.
3. Information is everywhere; media has less clout
Those great front page articles that used to drive attention and get everybody talking just are not as impactful as they once were. Last week, I told a blogger friend that a major newspaper had picked up one of his stories and cited him right on the front of one of its section fronts; he hadn’t seen it. It was about him and he was unaware! Readership and viewership of mainstream media has dropped precipitously over the last decade, so getting on the front page doesn’t carry a story as far as it once did. What that means is that the great PR hit is just beginning of a process – those stories need to be merchandised and pushed to other sets of eyeballs through email and social media. Speaking of which …
4. The social thing
Social networks have changed the way people get their news and the way they interact with brands. But you knew that. However, many organizations are still trying to shoehorn traditional PR thinking into this new reality. The social media world is far more freewheeling and customer-driven. You can direct this ever-evolving conversation, but you really can’t control it, at least not the way you used to be able to.
5. The ability to pitch a Crisis Communications Shutout
When something goes wrong and crisis communications is required, it used to be easy to address the situation and then move on. Now, it’s quite a bit different. As the line from The Social Network goes, “the Internet is written in ink.” And anybody can buy the ink. Credibility isn’t as important as it once was. Anyone can launch a blog; anyone can take shots on social media. You don’t have to have been established for a couple of decades before being taken seriously. In many respects this is good. But when you’re trying to put out a firestorm or address a controversy, the communications octopus can strangle you. The reality is that organizations can never answer every charge in this environment, and they need to acknowledge that. It means allowing for some level of dissent among your key constituencies; in the end, this will help your public image.