by Paul Kiser
Question: What is PR.
Answer: The 16th and 18th letters in the Alphabet.
That’s probably the best answer most people can get today about the beast that has become Public Relations. Public Relations used to be so simple. It was about promoting your organization. You did it through newspapers, radio, and television. If you were good at it you could disguise it so it looked like news. It involved writing skills, and people skills, and often it involved that attractive young, female, PR representative in the tight business skirt. It was all so easy…if you knew what you are doing and had the right connections to the right people.
And then came the Internet, and bloggers, and MySpace, then Facebook and Twitter. Perky people fell in love with the new ‘social media’ and the cynical people loathed it. Young people became texting experts and old people smirked and scoffed at the young people…well, maybe old people have always done that…but they did it more.
Slick PR types smiled, and then didn’t smile as much, and then didn’t smile at all. A tight skirt didn’t translate on the Internet. A slap on the back didn’t register on the virtual shoulder. All the ‘critical people to know’ at the newspapers, radio stations, and television stations were not as important in a world that was tuning out of traditional media. Newspapers started measuring the drop in circulation not by how much it dropped from last month, but how much the percentage of drop increased from last month. Publishing became something anybody could do, not just magazines and newspapers…and the soft thud we heard was the editor’s cigar hitting the floor as they sat in their 1960’s office chair with mouth agape while kids with cell phones were ‘scooping’ reporters with laptops.
O Brave New World
New technology did not kill PR, just everything we knew about it. The PR Stoics still say that PR really hasn’t changed, but who are they trying to kid. The field of Public Relations is changing daily, sometimes hourly. A 15-year old kid can make a bigger splash than a 30-year PR veteran, and the teen can do it in one Tweet.
Public Relations has been evolving for over a decade; however, in the past five years the media world experienced a 10.0 magnitude earthquake in best practices of PR that has shattered everyone’s understanding of the field. Whether it is a corporate entity, a non-profit organization, or a political campaign; what worked in 2005 is only going to work for a smaller and older segment of a society. The Public Relations experts are mixed in with everyone else trying to stay on top of the tsunami of change.
Reality Check in a Virtual World
- Publicity is not Public Relations –Get the message out, yes, but then listen for the response
- All Public Relations is local – “How does this impact me?” is the only question people want answered
- Public image is about what OTHER people think about your organization – Forget what you know, it’s what they think that is important
- Genuine trumps ‘Slick’ every time – Manipulation and selling is red flagged by the social media audience
- Passion trumps formality for the social media audience – Passion scares the traditional audience
- New PR: Shape the message to the audience – Old PR: Control the message!
- Communication is organic and messy – PR is about doing 1000 LITTLE things right, not just one BIG thing right
- The true value of advertising is declining – Super Bowl ad may be seen, but does it translate to commerce?
- Advertising = Spam – The audience has found the OFF button and they are not afraid to use it!
- Public Relations is a two-way process, not just broadcasting –Can people find out more? Can they even find you?
more Connected, more Segmented, and more Complicated
The new world of social media allows us to be more connected, but it also make us more aware of things we may not like or agree with on flashpoint issues. This can cause some people to ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ with those that they disagree, which divide people into segments of like-minded audiences. Organizations need to be aware of their audience and how that audience perceives everything they do. Even one worker can have a negative or positive impact the on public relations of an entire company.
Public Relations is a now a 24/7/365 field where an organization has to understand all age groups, all media resources, and look in the mirror constantly to see what the public sees from their point of view. What works today may not work tomorrow. What worked yesterday might be novel enough to work again. Branding is important, but like a woman’s make up, too much and you look like a whore. An organization’s public image is the sum of its individuals as much as it is advertising. Everyday Public Relations gets more chaotic and less forgiving.
“Does anybody really understand Public Relations?” is the wrong question. The question is who can afford not to?