Skip the press and extend your reach

Sometimes, the best insights come not from detailed research but from watching people.

I spent the weekend in a non-stop celebration of a number of family events. I am recovering. Thank you for your concern.

The guests were all ages, including dozens of teenagers and young people in their twenties. Over the weekend, some watched sport, but none of them watched or listened to the news or anything else on television or radio. Only one bought a newspaper. Yet they were constantly in touch with a network of friends in this country and abroad, texting, tweeting and chatting away. The wider network was as much a part of the celebrations as the people at the party.

This is the real challenge - and opportunity - we face in PR. Broadcast and print media still reach huge numbers. But one can never be sure the message is actually getting through. I remember in a previous role the pressure when the Evening Standard ran a trash piece on one of the senior executives. All the stops were pulled out to reduce the damage and manage the fallout. Yet when I watched people reading the newspaper on the tube and train on the way home, most simply passed the story by without reading it. They weren't interested.

That is the power of tools such as Twitter. They reach people such as my young party guests, and what gets said, gets read.

Stephen Fry calls Twitter 'a magnificent way of cutting out the press'. He says: 'If people want to announce their new this or their new that, they're saying: "I'm not going to do an interview... I'm just going to tweet it, and point them to my website."'

We just did this at DfID, sending out a tweet on a new Mother's Day story on our website. Several hundred people viewed it immediately, something we would have been astonished to achieve with a press release, but they also re-tweeted, forwarding it on to their friends and networks. It's still up there if you want to look.

The future really is bright - and it may already be here.

Paul Mylrea is director of communications at the Department for International Development.

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