Digital media's prevalence adds extra challenge to strategic PR

Faced with the multi-channel onslaught of social media, today's executives are confronted with multiple challenges in the strategic guidance of their organizations.

Faced with the multi-channel onslaught of social media, today's executives are confronted with multiple challenges in the strategic guidance of their organizations.

First, they must address the communications gap between the heads of many large organizations and the people in the communications functions. The CEO knows corporate strategy, but not enough about what is happening in the world of digital communications. Conversely, experts in digital communications know the technical details, but may be ignorant of how technology fits into the overall organizational strategy. Lately, this gap has worsened because of the lack of familiarity with new and social media.

Executives must reconcile the rapid reconfiguration within the formal communications function. The dividing lines between what we used to call PR, corporate communications, investor relations, advertising, marketing, and customer service are being dissolved and radically rearranged. When a CEO wants to take his or her company into new markets, who should guide the process? How are these responsibilities to be reassigned and evaluated?

Executives must also consider the expansion of "dense communications" beyond the formal communications function. In this new media landscape, what should be the rules governing who can say what about matters of deep concern to the company? This is not so simple, though. Recent studies indicate that consumer trust is greatest not in official PR people, but rather in the advice and communications from company employees.

Finally, executives must find new metrics for evaluating performance. How do we know when new PR strategies succeed or fail? This remains a challenge, but now we have remarkable new tools like Google Analytics and others that can track data from thousands of tweets, blogs, and e-mails. They can help answer questions about strategic, programmatic, and individual performance.

We still have major disruptions ahead of us. It is best to think of addressing these challenges as a journey, not a destination. These challenges must be met by designing brand new rules. Resolution requires the acquisition of new competencies, the reallocation of your organization's authority and resources and, most importantly, the breadth of vision, the over-the-horizon viewpoint, and the 360-degree thinking that has to be a staple of modern leadership.

Ernest Wilson is dean of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California.

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