The seven great PR transformations

There's something magical about the number seven. Think about it.

There's something magical about the number seven. Think about it: Snow White's companions; George Carlin's unspeakable (on TV) words; the wonders of the world; deadly sins; days of the week. There are a lot of great concepts tied to the number seven. 

We in PR have our own magic seven, too. There are “Seven Great Transformations” that have swept through our profession in the past few years, rewriting our job descriptions and setting the stage for a future that is dramatically different than our past.

The forces behind these transformations are known to us all: the decline of print and broadcast journalism, the rise of social communications, and the breathtaking transparency of modern life have all combined to force change upon us as professionals. Specifically, I see these seven major changes in our role:

Content facilitator to content provider: In our former lives, we were middlemen. Reporters wanted information not from us, but from our colleagues, executives, and subject-matter experts. In the new world, we provide content ourselves, directly to the outlets that will use it. At Pitney Bowes, we now routinely create and send content directly to the media in whatever form is needed: in writing, photography, or video.

Background to co-star: The rule for PR people used to be, “Stay out of the story.” You never wanted to be the person quoted in the story unless absolutely necessary. Now we are the co-stars, if not the actual stars. We have our own brands that we develop through social media channels, and they help draw attention to the companies we serve. I recently met a public-sector PR pro who also has 30,000 followers on his personal Twitter account.

Journalist-focused to employee- and customer-focused: We were originally hired by our organizations to “deal with the press” in just the same way that so many previous generations of PR people had. But with fewer members of the press out there, and with every employee and customer having the ability to influence our reputation through social media, we have shifted to speak more directly to these audiences.

Low customer contact to high customer contact: Traditionally, customers only know who a company's PR person is if they happen to glance at the “media contact” line on a press release. No longer. More and more companies are creating opportunities for the PR team, which is, after all, expert in delivering external messages, to communicate directly with customers through social media.

Writer to writer-producer: It used to suffice simply to be able to write like Shakespeare. Now we have to cajole our leaders into becoming multi-platform communicators. We still have to write like the Bard, but in addition we need the story-telling skills of Edward R. Murrow, the cinematic talents of Steven Spielberg, the motivational prowess of Pat Summitt, and the patience of Mother Theresa.

Spokesperson to spokesperson trainer: Gone are the days when we wanted to tightly control who spoke for the company. Now we want as many voices out there as possible. But that means training, and lots of it. We are increasingly called on as the messaging experts to develop and deliver the training to help our colleagues succeed.

Technology user to technology expert: The mandatory tools when my career began were the telephone and the typewriter, and knowing how they worked was unimportant. Now we are expected to understand QR codes, user forums, more than a dozen different social media channels, and whatever is the latest shiny toy emerging from Silicon Valley. Plus we have to know how to tie them all together for integrated, effective communications.

That's a lot of change packed into a short period of time. I wonder what the next seven years will bring.

Matthew Broder is VP of external communications at Pitney Bowes.

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