A few weeks ago, Horn Group and Girls in Tech hosted an open discussion about the future of PR. In the end, we probably raised more questions than we answered. Here's the biggest one: is social media killing PR? I think its closing some doors and opening others. Frankly, if my job was focused exclusively on promoting new products to early adopters, I'd be a little worried. However, there is a whole wide world out there beyond the Silicon Valley inner circle.
In some ways, social media is increasing the need and the opportunity for PR professionals. Company spokespeople no longer have the luxury of hiding behind controlled forms of communication like press releases or keynote addresses with little audience interaction. And this means they are relying on communications professionals more than ever to help them hone their skills. Some executives naturally are great communicators but many are not. One of my favorite aspects of my job is working with someone to find and develop their natural strengths as a speaker and giving them the confidence to put themselves out there. And I'm not just talking about official "media training." We no longer live in a world where companies have a few people who have to be stellar communicators because they are official spokespeople. Today everything is more transparent - customer service reps and community managers interact with customers in public forums, emails sent to employees are leaked to bloggers, employees at all levels are participating in social media. PR people need to be coaches and consultants across all departments of a company.
PR is evolving beyond a distinct, well-defined discipline. There will be a merging of many of the marketing disciplines because you can no longer isolate how you communicate to different audiences.
Gone are the days of PR people as information brokers. Our audiences - consumers, partners, investors, employees, the media, bloggers and analysts are now inter-connected more than ever. Investors, prospective customers and press can easily go to an online community and find out what customers really think of your product. Press releases with search engine optimization are sometimes more of a lead generation tool than an information resource for the press.
This means that PR people need to broaden their skills to understand everything from lead generation and search engine optimization to visual branding as well as social media and the traditional PR functions. This is the direction we are moving in at Horn Group. In fact, over 25 percent of our revenue now comes from interactive and creative services and more than half of our accounts are integrated.
For one client, we're helping them define their core values, creating a messaging platform, designing a new logo, recommending a naming scheme for their new product, re-designing their website, developing print and online ads, designing their collateral and managing the PR program.
For me, PR has never been just about pitching new products to the media. The thing I love most about my profession is that we have a privileged position inside a company - we know the details of the business strategy and the product roadmap, we know about their legal matters, we are on top of the competitive intelligence, and we know what customers and influencers really think of the company. We have our ears to the ground.
When you work in-house, you have the advantage of being closer to the business. When you work at an agency you have the advantage of working with dozens of companies over the years and gaining insights about different business strategies and leadership styles. You see what's effective and what isn't.
While we can have long conversations about how to measure the value of PR and social media (yes, metrics are important), I know that I'm doing my job well when the CEO starts treating me as a confidant and seeking my advice on importance issues. When they want my opinion on a succession plan, an exit strategy or a crisis situation, that's when I know we've made an impact on the organization.
Why does the PR industry have such a bad reputation?
Yes, there are those who blast out bad pitches to reporters whose names they misspell. But every profession has good and bad professionals. When PR people screw up, the mistakes can be very visible. But when we do something great, nobody hears about it. So, I'm asking you to share your success stories here. And I'm not talking just about "great hits" -- lets hear from all the agency and in-house PR people out there about those creative ideas or strategies that made an impact for your company or client. You can leave out the name of the company/client if it makes you more comfortable.
To kick it off, I'll share an example. It's from many years ago and when I worked at another agency, but it's a great example of the behind the scenes things that PR people contribute that go un-noticed.
In 1996 I worked at Edelman in New York. We had a handful of clients that were all taking a chance on a new business model - internet advertising. We were sitting around a conference room table debating if it was a conflict of interest to have multiple clients pursuing this strategy (I know, it seems ridiculous now). We decided that we should advise our clients to form a "coalition" to advance the cause. My former boss, Alan Penchansky, pitched the idea to several of our clients and that was the birth of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Today the IAB is still going strong with more than 375 media and technology members that make up 86% of online ad spending according to the organization.
In the spirit of healing thyself as Jeremiah Owyang challenged us to do, please join me in sharing your untold stories here.