Conversations to shape PR future

Remember when James Carville and George Stephanopoulos put an "It's the Economy, Stupid" sign in the first Clinton campaign war room to make sure everyone stayed on message?

Remember when James Carville and George Stephanopoulos put an "It's the Economy, Stupid" sign in the first Clinton campaign war room to make sure everyone stayed on message?

For PR pros these days, "It's the Conversation, Stupid." Managing the overload from all the new conversations they must have is one of the biggest challenges confronting PR pros today.

It's no secret that best practices in PR are undergoing the most radical transformation in the history of our profession. It's not about "pitching the media" anymore. It's about initiating, cultivating, engaging, and shaping dialogues with constituent audiences, both directly and with a rapidly growing army of brokers of information and intelligence both online and offline. The ability to bring order to the seeming chaos that can ensue in this "conversation economy" will determine the success of the PR profession in coming years.

Social media, blogs, citizen journalists, and direct interactive conversations with constituent audiences, collectively known as the emerging Web 2.0 environment, have presented daunting new challenges. Universal availability of broadband multimedia communications has lowered the barrier for anyone wishing to enter the dialogue, and the number of interactions with various audiences is growing at an exponential rate.

On any given day, one may communicate not just with traditional media, but directly with customer groups, shareholders, influential nonprofits, and dozens or even hundreds of members of the blogosphere. The new communications require a degree of multi- tasking that can crowd out time for the senior-level counsel that PR pros must provide to be effective. And if you drop even one of these many balls, the entire juggling act comes crashing down. The Web 2.0 overload on PR pros already working on a 24/7 schedule threatens to overwhelm them, make them less effective, and dislodge them from the seat at the C-suite table that's rightfully theirs.

The good news is that, paradoxically, the same technologies causing the problem are providing a solution. New Web-based knowledge tools enable PR pros to work smarter and faster, monitoring and managing the conversation overload in sane and productive ways. The learning curve can be steep, but those who embrace it also discover they are more effective.

Database technology has transformed editorial research from "list keeping" to dynamic, constantly updated intelligence about networks of media, analysts, and constituent audiences. Intelligent contact management systems enable personalized, real-time connections with a greater variety of individuals. Increasingly effective search technologies and sophisticated analysis tools have revolutionized the evaluation of results. And as PR pros enter the blogosphere themselves, they gain a personal understanding of how ideas are transmitted virally online.

Of course, the Web 2.0 tools are only as good as the people using them. Those who do get up to speed are finding new freedom to spend more time doing what PR people have traditionally done best: think, connect, provide counsel, contribute new ideas, and engage in conversations that are not only intelligent and invigorating, but that also motivate action.

Who knows? Web 2.0 might actually provide the key to unlock the door to the executive suite for PR pros once and for all.

Peter Granat is SVP, marketing and client development at Bacon's Information.

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