There has been a lot of talk in our industry about the “death” of the print medium, and what that means to the role of the public relations professional. There are two trends converging, meeting at a point some place in the future, and we can all see what that intersection means for news and media consumption.
One trend is the slow march of print media toward extinction. If it is not inevitable, it is certainly formidable—newspapers and magazines are either shutting down or migrating to the Web everyday. The other trend is the emergence of online tools—social media, as we know it today. These tools allow individuals and brands to connect with one another in the most organic of ways. When these two trends collide, it begs the question: Where does all of this leave the public relations industry?
From where I’m sitting, the answer is “in the catbird seat.”
As others have rightly pointed out, this new communications paradigm makes PR counsel more critical than ever. Er, “relating publicly,” as it were, will always be an artform. There will be a right way, and a wrong way. There will be strategic approaches, and reactionary knee jerks. There will be disciplined campaigns, and shotgun blasts. There will be pitfalls and pratfalls to be avoided…and trained communications counselors will be there to point them out.
When examining the role of the PR Practioner 2.0, consider the following areas in which public relations and marketing professionals are not only ideally suited, but perfectly primed:
1. Strategy – Brands and individuals, as they have been since media first emerged, will have grandiose plans, but will often lack the roadmap to get them from here to there. As we have been doing all along, our chief role will be that of counselor and strategist. We’ve seen it all. We know what to avoid and how to avoid it. We also know the insurers of success.
2. Content – With respect to the second-gen Internet, content is king. Marcom professionals have been generating content for years, in the form of brochures, advertisements, articles, white papers, marketing collateral, Web content, etc. This is what we do. The sandbox might have some new toys in it, but the art of building the sandcastle should still be our domain. Brands will need help. We will be there.
3. Managing the Message – You know brands will want to clamor “We’re the best!” from the hilltops, regardless of the medium. WE know that their constituents will return, “Who cares?,” if they listen at all. There is an art to finessing target audiences. And it’s not something you learn simply by trial and error.
4. Structure – Defining goals, audiences, metrics for success. This is what far too many marketers fail to do at the outset of a campaign or initiative. They simply jump in with both feet, marketing guns a-blazin’. Most of what we do as marketing counselors, at least that which determines success or failure, happens before the first word of copy is written or clever idea is borne. There will always be value in carefully orchestrating a structured methodology, which marketers will either accept or learn the hard way.
5. The Rules of Engagement – I mentioned the right way and the wrong way above. Nowhere is this more apt or crucial than in the world of social media. By its very nature, brands will be exposing themselves to and communicating with their precious constituents at the very base level. Communications is direct. It’s instantaneous. It’s open source—we don’t always control it. Most brands today are reluctant to embrace social media because of its perceived inherent dangers. But they will have no choice at the intersection I referenced. They will want to know, “How do I do this without getting stung?” “How can I make this work?” “Who will listen?” “What should I say?” “What should I NOT say?” We know the answers to those questions, because we’ve been addressing them for decades.
6. Measurement – Campaign measurement was a more difficult undertaking 10 years ago. You placed an ad; you waited for the phone to ring. If it rang: success. If it didn’t: failure. But you never knew why the phone didn’t ring. Was the message wrong? Did no one see it? Am I in the wrong market? Is my product or pricing off? Today, with this wonderful thing called the Internet (you’ll hear more about it), virtually everything is measurable. You can measure engagement, traffic, attention, participation, conversion, raw numbers, authority, influence, even sentiment. Someone will have to be there to do that measuring, analyze what it means, and make the requisite recommendations and adjustments going forward.
All of this, and more, takes the training and seasoning that marketing, public relations and communications professionals have been honing since their respective disciplines were invented. It is knowledge that cannot be gained by osmosis, nor experience best attained through trial by fire. These are disciplines that simply cannot be ignored, whether carving etchings into the side of a cave or building an online network of committed followers.
So fret not, PR pros. Things are just getting interesting!