Some moments you never forget. One of those occurred almost 15 years ago when a senior client asked me if I truly felt people would turn to the Internet for serious public policy debates.
I convinced him the Internet was a powerful medium, but he remained doubtful it would be a useful public affairs tool.
Fifteen years later, the Internet and its progeny, social media, are game changers in every area of American life - and essential parts of PR strategies for anyone looking to influence or tap into the public consciousness. They are also the most powerful political tools since the advent of TV.
Two years ago, Barack Obama successfully harnessed social media's power to help capture the presidency. Just recently, anti-government organizers in Egypt used Twitter and Facebook to organize massive protests aimed at toppling the Mubarak regime.
Social media has not only had a dramatic impact on the ballot box - it has given voice to constituents who impact how public policies are being developed in city council hearings, at state houses, and in the halls of Congress.
It has emerged as a "must have" in any communications effort that seeks to influence public debate. People are utilizing their own networks to gather information, viewpoints, and influence. Smart communicators know how to reach those networks in legitimate, authentic ways. No longer are the words of the editor the only perspective. Bloggers and tweets have become talking points that form impressions and opinions.
A smart public affairs strategist will recognize the importance of a well-thought-out social media effort and realize that simply establishing a Facebook page or an account on Twitter will not suffice.
Harnessing the power of this direct communication requires integration with a full complement of other valuable communications tools and techniques. Successful campaigns help frame an issue, move public opinion, promote ideas, and create a groundswell of support or opposition.
Public affairs is in a constant state of change. Successful practitioners adapt to new challenges on an almost daily basis. During my career, I've seen industry practices turned upside down and back again as new and more powerful tools become available.
Still, some constants remain. Your message needs to be strong, your strategy sound, and your story authentic - especially in the brave new world of social media. I'm sure my old client will read this - likely on the Internet.
Gloria Story Dittus is chairman of Story Partners. She cofounded Direct Impact and founded Dittus Communications.