It's fairly safe to say that the leading catalyst for contemporary change in the PR industry has been technology and the advancement of digital media.
In the last 10 to 15 years, we've gone from faxing press releases and compiling clip books by hand to tweeting, Skyping, and texting with journalists. As social media pervades the public landscape and smartphones become ubiquitous, the demand, and expectation, for real-time connectivity continues to have a profound impact on the public relations industry.
In my previous posts, I discussed how both time and creativity have greatly shifted in the last decade, and provided tips to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing media, and PR industry. In this last piece, I will explore the real crux of the evolution: technology.
Here are a few tips on how to capitalize on technology to both make great strides and avoid PR pitfalls.
Don't forget about interpersonal interaction
Before smartphones untethered us from the office and iPads became mini-laptops, PR teams worked in close proximity to one another, coming together to hash out problems or brainstorm creative campaigns on a daily basis. Very few worked from home and digital communication was limited to getting multiple offices, in multiple cities, on the same fuzzy video conference call.
Today, many PR pros and journalists have moved to the virtual workspace, with the vast majority of communication facilitated through email, text, and instant messaging. And, whereas in-persons were often required for team meetings or other strategic discussions, we now have Google Hangout and Skype to get everyone in the same room. We don't even need to drop by our clients' offices with the latest sizzle reel or photo proofs; we now have Dropbox to thank for avoiding the traffic. And these tools aren't limited to the virtual workplace – even those who spend the majority of their hours working from a traditional office can easily find themselves turning to digital communication instead of dropping by a colleague's desk.
Most people would agree that even the most advanced form of communication will never be a true replacement for a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. But in today's fast-paced workplace, those same people would likely agree that they don't have the time for back-to-back meetings, much less a casual chat at a colleague's desk. And, while it's true that we accomplish a great deal more because of the flexibility that technology brings, it is still important to recognize when face-time is more effective than IM, and when the energy derived from a brainstorm in the lounge or conference room inspires more creativity than an e-mail chain.
Bottom line: use e-mail or IM for tactical correspondence, but pick up the phone or make a visit for more strategic discussions. Brainstorm in person or, at the very least, use video chat so that everyone is encouraged – read: pressured – to participate, rather than hitting delete. And, if a digital conversation is going off course, always, always, always resolve it with a phone call or in-person discussion.
And…build solid digital relationships
While real, tangible, in-person interactions can't be replaced, there clearly is value in investing time in building digital relationships, especially with the media.
Social media has blown the door between PR pros and reporters wide open, and it's crucial that we take advantage of that access, without overstepping our bounds (yes, sometimes easier said than done – see the word to the wise below).
But staying top-of-mind, and in the good graces of reporters and editors, takes more effort than the occasional retweet. Ongoing altruistic digital gestures like tweeting or commenting on an article (and no, it can't always be about your client), or sending warm congratulations via social media for new jobs, promotions, or personal announcements, don't go unnoticed. Nor do responses to tweets or Facebook posts for sources or executive commentary, even when they have nothing to do with your client but you have something valuable to add.
Following and interacting with target journalists during inactive pitching periods will establish familiarity and trust. As a result, you'll be rewarded with a more direct line of communication in the future, which also gives you better odds for a story down the line.
(Word to the wise: be cognizant that there is an invisible line that can be crossed when leveraging technology to reach reporters. As I have learned the hard way, just because you may have some of your favorite reporters' cell phone numbers, doesn't mean they want an unsolicited text from you popping up on their iPhone screen. The same goes for the #twitpitch, which should be used sparingly -- if it's not highly relevant and interesting, you are opening yourself up for a snarky response you may not want thousands of followers to see.)
Use tech to make smarter moves
Behind the scenes, we're all competing with breaking news from everyday Twitter users, in addition to sophisticated and deep pocketed marketers manning the branded social helm, to get messages in front of target audiences. But, regardless of established relationships, agency size, depth of pockets, or sophistication, the same tools are at all of our disposals to stay educated and push past the noise. In order to craft the hyper-targeted pitch necessary to shine through a reporter's crowded inbox, PR pros need to become expertly educated on that reporter and his or her beat. And in today's world of digital transparency, we can collect a vast amount of knowledge (beat, relevant stories, interests, restrictions, PR pet peeves, etc.) in a matter of minutes.
These smarter, strategic moves are not limited to our relationships with journalists. PR pros should obviously be well-informed on how new tools and technologies can help our clients broadcast their messages in targeted ways, increase brand awareness, boost audience engagement, and measure success. Whether it's creating content optimized for specific platforms such as mobile, tablet, Web; releasing news solely through images or rich media; creating real time campaigns that tie multiple social media tools together at once (e.g., posting a photo on Instagram tied to a response on Twitter or your client's blog); the complementing of traditional polling with Facebook and Twitter surveys or more, new technologies and social tools have helped us find more creative and effective vehicles for engaging target audiences.
With these diverse tools at our disposal, it's also our job to use our best judgment on when and how to apply them, and to recognize when certain efforts don't make sense. Even though the methods and tools naturally evolve, consistent pillars of traditional PR will remain. Investing time in real relationships and driving the necessary creativity that get our clients noticed will always be at the core of every PR pro's job.
Seasoned PR veterans are acutely aware of how the industry we've grown up in has evolved before our very eyes. Whether it's our use of time, approaches to creative strategy, or modes of communication, life for PR people looks much different than it did a decade ago. But, with modern technology, access, and connectivity at an all-time high, we'll be left in the dust if we don't heed the call to use new ways to get our clients' messages heard.
Darcy Cobb is co-founder of Dotted Line Communications.