The 35 years I have spent as a public relations professional have provided me with a healthy dose of experience and good judgment – enough to guide me through challenging and often complex cases. But who says that an old dog can’t learn a new trick or two? This “old dog” has actually found it thrilling to wade into the brave new world of social media with a vocabulary that sounds like a sci-fi dictionary. My younger colleagues seem to find humour in the fact that I actually understand the meaning of wikis, vlogs, aggregators, metadata and ajax (a scripting language. not the household cleaner)!
As I see it, social media is probably one of the most exciting phenomena to impact the communications industry and I dare say that public relations professionals are ideally suited to embrace the potential of Web 2.0. It is not hard to understand why.
In the simplest sense, we are in the business of helping to build relationships between an organization and its varied publics. And this is where the world has changed. Communication is no longer about persuasion; it’s about conversation, and this conversation is happening online. It’s happening in increments of seconds and minutes. As a result, public relations professionals have had to completely rethink such tools as media kits, news conferences, editorial tours and press releases.
The launch of the U.S. Democratic Party’s presidential campaign was a striking example of the power of social media, as was the CNN-YouTube Democratic Debate. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama chose to speak to voters directly, in their own homes, via the internet. Imagine the impact this event had on the supply chain, including rentals of campaign buses, accommodations, media services and staffing?
As a result, we need to dramatically transform the way we think, the strategic counsel we provide and the tactics we recommend.
Consider the facts: More than 70 per cent of Canadians are online; there are currently over 55 million blogs, with the blogosphere doubling every six months; podcasts outnumber radio stations and online social networks are outpopulating cities, provinces and countries. Stakeholders are now able to hunt for information 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they have unparalleled access to information.
By definition, social media describes the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives with each other. The web has opened the floodgates to citizen journalism, whereby volunteer journalists contribute to the news effort, often much faster than mainstream print and broadcast media. Access and dissemination of news no longer belongs to a select few who determine what is or isn’t important. Virtual communities, made up of those sharing common interests in cyberspace rather than in physical space, are able to exercise considerable influence through discussion groups, chat rooms, listserves and newsgroups. For the PR industry, this represents a real opportunity to apply our intrinsic skills in developing content and engaging publics using new and improved technologies. Press releases need to be short and concise and contain hyperlinks and smart keyword placement to optimize searches.
The inherent integrity characteristic of social media communication fits beautifully with the notion of third-party endorsement and credibility, which remain hallmarks of the practice of public relations. Online communities can spot a fraud from a mile away and if they are not certain about the validity of a claim, they will collaborate to verify the information. Now more than ever, transparency is a must.
Carol Levine APR
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This is a letter that I sent to Marketing Magazine regarding their coverage of the PR industry. Since they did not run it and I think it is of interest to everyone in the PR industry, I’m posting it here.
As an accredited PR professional, president of APEX Public Relations and Chair of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms I would like to state my dissatisfaction with your coverage of our industry. PR is an essential and growing part of the marketing mix, yet Marketing Magazine has done little to recognize the increasing importance of this discipline.
The redesign of your magazine provided a portent of hope for improvement. With an expanded editorial format and a stated interest to “re-think everything,” what a perfect time to put more focus on PR. While your increased attention on social media issues is encouraging, the continued lack of focus on our industry is disappointing.
What is even more discouraging is that your “special issue” Public Relations Resource Book provides absolutely no unbiased editorial content, and is ultimately a collection of advertorials funded by the mandatory purchase of an accompanying advertisement. While many of us have protested this approach in the past, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
The nature of our business is to earn the trust of journalists and provide them with background information and spokespeople in the development of their stories. In other words, we earn coverage, not pay for it. Your PR Resource guide’s departure from a journalistic approach and coverage of our industry is very disappointing. While advertorials are a legitimate method of promotion, and one often used by PR professionals, it should not be the sole vehicle for coverage of our industry in Marketing.
According to your marketing materials, your advertorial approach is actually “a unique opportunity to highlight what sets your business apart from the rest of the pack.” In other words, it’s okay for PR professionals and groups to pay for and write our own articles (even though it compromises our professional ethics), while you’re busy providing free, journalistic coverage to the rest of the marketing industry.
Like many marketing disciplines, PR is going through a transformation. While it is a rising star amongst marketers around the world, there are best practices, challenges and key learnings accompanying any PR initiative. Open dialogue, discussion and consultation with PR experts and reviews of user experiences are what should be incorporated into your PR guide and general coverage; not unedited, paid-for advertorial content.
While I know this will have little impact on your business, for the first time in our eight year history we have decided to withdraw our listing ad. I hope others in our industry follow suit.
Pat McNamara, APR
President, APEX Public Relations
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By Patrick Gossage
Twenty years ago I launched Media Profile in a corner of my brother’s promotion company. We were soon two or three, and twenty years later there are over 50 consultants working on a breathtaking variety of clients. This story has repeated itself all over Toronto, and Canada for that matter. The PR business is booming, almost unnoticed by the wider marketing community.
First the business is more professional and sophisticated than it was twenty or thirty years ago when a few well established firms soaked up big corporate and government clients and served them with pretty standard media relations, speech writing and publicity services.
PR has moved with the times, and most firms can now offer media training, crisis management, product launch support, store and other facility openings, financial communications and IR, and what is loosely called marketing communications. We have met new and growing demand for earned media and other forms (such as sponsorship) of developing profile, and in many cases created that demand.
For many years, many of us found financial institutions our bread and butter. This business was in ferment, increasing their product offer, getting into electronic banking and fighting for share of mind. They were also being pilloried for high service charges, and closing branches, so reputation management became an important part of our services.
The expansion of media’s reporting on not just banks but all traded companies, and the more visible role of the capital markets, the brokerage houses, the pension funds — all opened new opportunities for intelligent, factual media relations with a new breed of demanding business reporters and commentators. We all remember our first AGM’s which we entirely organized from speeches to AV support.
Then the explosion of the Canadian telecom industry fed growth (think – 20 years ago there as only Bell and the provincial telecom monopolies), the fight for long distance competition, the explosion of broadband and all kinds of communications services and devices which continues unabated. PR became an important adjunct to highly competitive marketing campaigns.
Some companies exploded with activity during the dot.com boom. Everyone wanted media space for their successes and for profiles of the captains of the glamorous tech industry – and we provided it. Most of us survived the bust and now a whole new breed of specialized tech reporters in robust tech media and in mainstream TV, print, even radio want and need stories from our high tech clients big and small.
While we did not enter the pharma field, many did and expanded their businesses as each new drug needed its endorsers, launch events and ongoing stakeholder communications programs – all providing very attractive remuneration.
Lifestyle media and media features and sections specializing in new products and gimmicks – everything from cameras, to travel equipment, to toys and electronic gizmos, fashion accessories and makeup – all exploded in the last decade creating an insatiable demand for novelty, functionality and appealing design. This we fulfilled in spades. Many of us have product showcases for our clients, and the media show up in droves. This tends to be seasonal with Xmas items already put to bed in the spring.
We’ve all also noticed the new plethora of Canadian entertainment and “star” magazines and TV shows and news inserts. Again we are there to feed them the photos, interviews and DVD’s, discs and other material – and even the odd real star — they need for our clients.
And of course, when our clients get into reputation issues, whether fraud in a law firm (yes, they now use outside PR firms) an industrial accident, an environmental spill or other horror, our senior people move in, giving mature and reasonable advice and counsel. For many of us this and media training have become a large part of our business.
There are simply hundreds more interesting stories to tell, companies and individuals that want profile, and dozens more outlets of all kinds to expose them in than there were twenty years ago. It’s a great business to be in, and there are more and more companies succeeding in it.
Pat Gossage is the Chairman of Media Profile.
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The Federal Government has just invited industry comment on a new standard Draft Request for Standing Offer that would be used to select firms to provide PR services to departments and agencies.
The Standing Offer system allows the government to pre-qualify firms as suppliers through a competitive process. Firms then may be contracted for specific services by the departments and agencies for which they have been pre-qualified.
We all benefit from a fair and effective selection process. The current Request for Industry Comment provides us with an all-too-rare opportunity to suggest improvements to this process.
If you run a public relations consultancy that has competed for government business in the past, we’d like to hear your views on the government’s proposal. Download and review the Draft Request for Standing Offer and then post your suggestions in the comments section of this post.
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