The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.


Thought Leadership Can't Be Delegated

Handing over your thought leadership blog to a ghostwriter diminishes the authenticity of your thought and the genuineness of your leadership.

Handing over your thought leadership blog to a ghostwriter diminishes the authenticity of your thought and the genuineness of your leadership.

Professional writers can add polish and zing to your content, but when it comes to thought leadership, the words should come from you.

Demonstrating thought leadership demands more than just coming up with a thought. How you articulate that thought is where the leadership part. Relying on someone else to craft and organize your words leaves you as merely someone who has a thought, not someone who can marshal that thought into actionable language.

Many writing assignments can and should be delegated such as press releases, backgrounders and marketing copy. Professional writing skills and experience can make a huge difference.

When it comes to a blog intended to show you know your stuff, it is disingenuous to hand off the job to someone else. Even if you rattle off a few key points, the final words are someone else's, not yours.

Typical reasons for delegating include a busy schedule, other pressing duties and writer's block. Those all could be true, but step back a moment and imagine an honest beginning to your "thought leadership" blog:

"My ghostwriter wrote this blog because after I had a bright idea in the shower, I didn't have time to expand on it or write it down. Thanks for reading."

Sound like thought leadership to you?

If your thoughts are important enough to think, they deserve the time and attention to write about. Your words make your thought authentic and your leadership genuine.

Readers, especially the ones you want to influence, will be keen enough to tell.

Top of Mind: Key to Being Remembered

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

You may be someone's best friend, but they still could forget you if you aren't doing what it takes to remain top of mind.

For example, we never got a chance to pitch a project for a former client, who when asked why sheepishly said he forgot about us. 

On the other hand, a long-time colleague invited CFM to be part of his proposal after he read one of our blogs that touched directly on what the potential client wants.

If you are sitting on the sidelines, don't blame your clients or colleagues. Look in the mirror, then get out of the bathroom and remind people that you exist and do quality work.

How you stay in the line of vision of potential clients can take a lot of forms. Give speeches, write blogs, keep up regular correspondence, share a white paper, take people out for coffee or do someone a simple favor. 

Success is less about what you do than whether you do what it takes.

Integrated approaches to networking work best. Take an idea and turn it into a blog. Promote your blog on your Twitter feed and ask for feedback on your LinkedIn page.  Self-publish press releases on your website. Start a conversation that attracts the eyeballs of your target clients – and your existing ones, too. Let them see you are thinking and offering ideas.

The best posts, speeches and coffee chats center on sharing something useful. It won't seem as much like a sales pitch if you offer information or a tip clients can use. It will remind them of your value and relevance.

You can't stop with a single outreach effort. People are busy and can overlook your post or miss your speech. It may seem like you are saturating your communications channels, but that is unlikely unless you screw up like Justin Bieber. Staying top of mind demands being a regular part of the thought leadership landscape.

As a colleague once said, professional networking is a contact sport. No contact, no client, no gain.

Your Relevance is Your Message

Effective websites are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

Effective websites are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

If you wonder whether it is time to mix things up on your corporate website, you probably missed the memo about keeping your website mixed up all the time.

Effective websites stopped being electronic brochures a long time ago. Now they are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

Put more directly, you should be adding fresh material to your website continuously to give your audience a reason to keep coming back. This is true regardless whether you are marketing a product or providing information about a complex public issue.

Good websites often resemble blogs. In fact, some websites have morphed into blogs. Other websites have become online newsrooms. Still others are similar to Ebooks, with a storytelling theme and look and feel.

Content is more varied and visual. It includes photos, videos, charts, screenshots and infographics. Think of the difference between National Geographic and the TV Guide.

Instead of just the facts, many websites convey a brand personality or the personalities of service providers.

All of the content is aimed at the singular objective of engaging your viewers, answering their questions and offering useful information. It is less about you and more about them. Your relevance becomes your message.

If you are reaching out to customers or constituents on a regular basis, then you should be thinking about your website constantly. A website isn't a marketing panacea, but it should be the core of your marketing plan, the place you invite people to come to see what you have to offer. It should be a place they find appealing and enticing enough to return again and again.

Your Website Matters

So much attention has been given to social media and thought leadership blogs, websites have become almost an afterthought. They are anything but.

Websites have evolved from their beginnings as electronic brochures, where content contained in print brochures was essentially uploaded online.

Websites morphed into information portals that moved beyond print copy to offer layers of information, often in multimedia forms.

Now websites are centers for content marketing strategies. The content spreads out like religious apostles, but a key objective of the content is to cause a click on the holy land of content, your website.

The look and feel of websites has evolved, too. They have gone from hard-to-read to vibrant and colorful, with images and information packaging overtaking the dull columns of copy that marked earlier websites.

Social Media Manager is Dead-End Job

With social media becoming an ever-increasing part of communications strategies, how can a position dedicated to managing social media be already on the way out?

The answer to that is easy and predictable. Social media never was — or should have been — an end in itself. It is just another tool, a cool one at that, in your integrated communications toolkit.

Social media is the perfect answer for some marketing and issue management needs and a non-starter for others. Just like TV ads, billboards and direct mail.

In the marketing PR world, the right answer isn't what service you sell; it is the tool or tools that get the job done.

Think of social media in the same light as websites. Not that long ago, websites were rarities as part of communications strategies. Now, it is rare to find a communications plan that doesn't call for a website. Social media is following a similar pattern. It is becoming a staple in most communications strategies. But it usually is just a part of the strategy.

Why I love RSS Readers

I was first introduced to RSS readers in college. Before then, I had wondered about the popularity of blogs. I assumed people continued to check several of their favorite blogs throughout the day, hoping for a new post.

At the time, I was still a fan of a more traditional form of media — magazines. I loved the beautiful layouts and full color photographs. Most of all, I loved that several interesting stories would be contained in one convenient place.

Discovering Google Reader was a revelation. I could load all of the blogs I loved into one convenient site. New posts would automatically populate, eliminating the need to check multiple sites for new content. Google Reader quickly became my go-to site for consuming information on the Internet.

Sadly, RSS readers never really took off. Social media sites quickly filled the void for people looking for interesting things to read. While I’m still an avid user of Social Media, I’ve preferred the organization of my RSS reader. It shows me what new posts I have to read, and after I’ve read them, I can easily make them disappear. Checking it every morning has become my version of reading the morning paper.

Blogs: Telling Your Own Story

If you want customers or stakeholders to know and trust you, you need to give them a reason. You need to tell your story convincingly and interestingly — and a blog is a perfect venue to tell it.

Great blogs share information unavailable anywhere else. That can include pictures, videos, tips on new products and back-stories. You can showcase individual employees or teams, share insider insights and create infographics that describe product or service innovations.

Companies and organizations with smart blogs personalize their content. They may hand over the keys to the blog to an individual or small group to act as the voice. They may concentrate their content on subjects intended to engage readers, instead of just informing them.

While some complain about the time it takes to brainstorm and produce content for blogs, the truth is blogging makes organizations more aware of themselves at a human level. You have to look around to find good stories, and they are inevitably all around you to find.

Blogging demands keen observation, like any other form of writing. You take notice of what's different or special in your operation or of a coworker who went the extra mile for a customer or client.

A blog is a license to unleash your imagination — and your curiosity. It would have been fascinating, for example, if Marty Cooper of Motorola had blogged about the thought process he and his fellow workers pursued in untethering phones from homes, offices and even cars, 40 years ago. It would be equally interesting if Cooper, who continues at age 85 to imagine the mobile phone as an extension of human capability with applications in medicine and education, could explain how he sees the future unfolding.