PR pros must act on new media lest they get left behind

For all of the hype about blogs and citizens' media, the PR community still has a long way to go before we can say that we've learned the bare minimum to stay afloat in these new waters.

For all of the hype about blogs and citizens' media, the PR community still has a long way to go before we can say that we've learned the bare minimum to stay afloat in these new waters.

The good news is that interest in these subjects has skyrocketed. Attendance at industry events on blogging, podcasting, and RSS has been very strong this fall. The bad news is that we're stuck in the pen-and-paper stage. It's critical that the PR industry - particularly firms - start mobilizing and training its communicators to work hands-on in this new world. It's time for us to go the distance.

While hard data doesn't exist, anecdotally, the number of PR pros subscribing to RSS feeds is probably in the single-digit percentile. And while the number of PR bloggers globally has swelled into the hundreds, we're still a minority. In other words, very few people in our industry have decided to venture into the jungle to learn, the way Jane Goodall did. We're still stuck in our car at Lion Country Safari.

My conviction here is not just a byproduct of my own passion for citizen's media or even of my blog, micropersuasion.com. Rather, it's reinforced by listening to leading thinkers from both the worlds of PR and technology.

Take AlwaysOn's Tony Perkins, journalist and new media pioneer, for example. He recently told me that the PR community has 75% of the skills needed to survive in a world where everyone is considered a "journalist." He says, and I concur, that we need to start executing on this now. We need to put our knowledge into action by jumping into the pool - what he calls the last 25%.

Tony's opinions are very consistent with what Andrew Bernstein from Cymfony is seeing. Cymfony is capitalizing on the growth of consumer-generated media. Companies are turning to the vendor to help better understand what consumers are saying about their products, companies, brands, and clients. The problem is, many of them don't know what to actually do with this data. Andrew, like Tony, wants to help the PR community go the distance. But, you see, he can't. That's not his job. It's ours.

This is where the PR agencies and internal corporate communications groups must respond - and do so quickly. We need to actively encourage our clients and our teams to put all of this knowledge into action. We don't need more surveys or seminars. That's paralysis by analysis. We need on-the-job blog training - and fast.

We need to show all PR pros how to read RSS feeds. We need to help them get immersed in writing blog posts so they get a feel for what works and what doesn't. We need to show them how to monitor blog search feeds and then, appropriately, respond. We need to go the distance through immersion.

Here are three ideas I put forth on my blog:

Hands-on workshops. PRSA, Ragan, the IABC, and other organizations need to start running hands-on industry workshops - not just panels with bloggers. Rent hotel meeting rooms that have computers and wi-fi, not pens and pads.

Integration. PR agencies are beefing up the ranks in their interactive divisions, but they often remain in a separate fiefdom. We must have every traditional PR pro thinking about how they might use these tools in their current campaigns. Give blogs, RSS, and podcasts just as much thought as press releases and pitch letters. New media is everyone's job.

Encouragement. There's no easier way to get people learning about social media than by getting your own workers to dabble in it. We need to get more agency heads blogging or podcasting, and we must encourage their teams to do the same.

These ideas are just a start. I have publicly called upon the senior leadership of the top US PR firms to participate in a transparent dialogue on "the last 25%" over on The New PR Wiki (www.thenewpr.com).

This will hopefully identify some best practices and next steps that we all can implement inside our own firms. This is the only way the industry is going to evolve quickly. We need to think participation and indoctrination, not just education. I invite you to join our conversation.

  • Steve Rubel is VP at CooperKatz & Company. He runs the firm's Micro Persuasion practice.

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