Is PR truly starting to take the lead in more integrated campaigns?

Matt Kirdahy, director of financial and corporate practices group at Middleberg Communications, and Mario Almonte, managing partner at Herman and Almonte PR, debate whether PR is taking the lead in integrated campaigns.

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Matt Kirdahy

Director, financial and corporate practices group, Middleberg Communications

Former Forbes journalist helps financial clients with social media

We are in the era of digital and social media integration in the financial community.

At long last, many of the most conservative financial institutions are recognizing the importance of such tools in their PR and marketing campaigns and our ability as professionals to implement them.

Among the challenges we face, beyond successfully targeting the right audience, is doing so within the rules - rules that still confuse some clients.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest non-government regulator for US securities firms, sets a list of guidelines to which all companies must adhere when it comes to dispatching messages via digital and social media avenues.

The rules are cumbersome, delicate, and at times unclear. We must help clients understand these commandments so they can no longer tacitly play the "sorry, we're not allowed to Tweet that or Facebook this" card. In many cases we've encountered, that's untrue.

Once given the opportunity to implement the social media segment of a plan, clients then recognize their ability to communicate within the boundaries of what's legal and how to make the experience human. That is to say generate content that's not simply force feeding a product advertisement to potential clients or customers.

Consumer- and entertainment-centric PR campaigns have made great strides in successfully implementing digital and social media plans for the better part of the past decade. Many campaigns now swear by these tools.

That's not to say brokers and portfolio managers should Tweet stock picks or lure prospective clients on LinkedIn. All efforts on the digital and social media front must employ a studied approach with the objective of building powerful brand presence, awareness and credibility.

Clients realize that, in order to participate in and drive the conversation, PR pros must help them articulate the right message using social media tools. This complements everything else firms do for clients in a tho-rough campaign, further adding real value to the business.

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Mario Almonte

Managing Partner, Herman and Almonte PR

Has spent 20 years crafting strategies and managing reputations for varied clients

With social media permeating every aspect of our lives, PR firms are now talking about developing "integrated" campaigns to spread the message across a more diversified PR landscape. But are they all saying the same thing or is the practice of PR actually becoming more fragmented and inconsistent?

Before social media, "integrated PR" referred specifically to the coordinated use of PR, marketing, and advertising to get a client's message out. And that worked out just fine. A few well-known and easily identifiable newspapers and TV networks were the primary sources of information for most people.

But social media destroyed all that. It created a seismic shift in how people receive information. Today, TV and newspapers are seen almost as support players because people turn less to these third-party sources and more to personal relationships to make a buying decision and form an opinion. Audiences no longer ask, "What did they say?" but "What does my friend think?"

Therefore, today's integrated PR campaigns more frequently refer to the use of social media, SEO, and other online techniques that can send a message viral - anything that leads to a larger online presence, where audiences have migrated.

And there's the rub. Getting to these audiences isn't a simple matter of seeding all the places in which they congregate and waiting for the information to eventually reach them, like osmosis. Facebook may have a half billion users, and Twitter some 200 million, but people don't use these services to engage those other millions, rather they engage a few acquaintances in their exclusive little worlds. You might live in a city of 10 million people, but you don't actually talk to every single one of them.

The truth is PR firms aren't exactly sure about the best way to reach their widely flung audiences. We all agree we must integrate a wider range of disciplines to succeed, but what those disciplines should be are yet to be agreed upon. For that reason, until the social media dust settles, the "rules" of best PR practice will remain hazy and "integrated" campaigns will still have a disjointed and fragmented feel to them.

More than ever, clients need a one-stop solution to reach a wide audience. With social media's rise, PR's value is evident and more firms are delivering the creative ideas that are winning the top spot on integrated campaigns.

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