public relations

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.


A Story about Public Relations and Advertising

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

Public relations and advertising are separate disciplines. Sometimes fiercely separate. It is fun to see the virtues of both come together to tell a brand story.

Subaru is airing a TV commercial for its Forester model titled, “A Life Story on the Line.” In a brief 30 seconds, the ad traces the life of a young couple through school, marriage, the birth of twins and a devasting traffic accident. The family survives and credits their Forester for “keeping their story going.”

The commercial conveys the Subaru brand promise in a nutshell or, more precisely, in a story line.

In previous years, Subaru storytelling ads talked about their vehicle’s durability through the eyes of a dad cleaning out memories from a car he is giving to his grown-up daughter. In a well-known series of ads, a dog family puts a Subaru through its paces in human terms from vacation traveling to a front-seat first kiss.

TV advertising earns its way by pushing messages in a visual envelope. But the creative instincts needed to produce an eye-catching 30-second spot are closely related to those employed by filmmakers to produce movies. They also are the stock and trade of public relations professionals. Storytelling may not work to announce a furniture sale, but Subaru used it effectively to promote the safety of its cars in flesh-and-blood terms.

Mac Schwerin, writing in Adweek, pans the use of storytelling in advertising. He says globalization has eviscerated brand stories, which tend to be tied to a specific place. Stories, Schwerin claims, are parochial and advertising needs to be global.

“Advertising is an objectively terrible format for storytelling,” he adds. “Commercials are not given enough breathing room to reward characterization, voice, humanity and a bunch of other nuanced literary stuff.”

Ana Gotter of Disruptive Advertising disagrees. “Stories communicate messages in highly specific and emotionally impactful ways,” Gotter says. “They’re memorable and give us something to identify with and hold on to. Statistics tell us what the reality is – stories tell us why it matters and why we need to care.”

Subaru has taken Gotter’s advice, not Schwerin’s, when producing TV ads. A simple, fast-paced narrative with a beginning, a moment of truth and a happy ending gives viewers a potent 30-second brand message: Subaru vehicles are safe.

The ad doesn’t try to lure you to a dealership with a discount or special promotion. It only tries to convince you that could save your family’s life by driving one of its cars. By anyone’s measure, that’s a powerful story – and an effective brand story.

The age of content marketing has achieved a lot, including bringing PR and advertising professionals closer together. The notion of paid advertising no longer is the exclusive territory of the Don Drapers and creatives who work on beanbag chairs. Paid advertising extends to storytelling in print, video, audio and social media formats.

Stories can sell, often better than confetti, screaming typefaces, overbearing announcers and unbelievable celebrity endorsers. Check out your own brand story and think about ways to share it with your customers and prospects.

Rise of Marketing PR

Forget the old distinctions between marketing and PR and focus on how they are alike — relying on solid research and engaging audiences with informative, relevant and entertaining content.The digital age has profoundly affected the media and, consequently, marketing and public relations. Today there really is no distinction between marketing and PR. 

Some have questioned whether PR has veered into the space of advertising by relying on social media, websites and online newsrooms and bypassing old-fashioned story pitching to gain earned media coverage.

PR professionals, including the new breed of marketing PR professionals, still pitch stories to reporters and editors, but they don’t stop there. Sometimes they don't start there. 

Your Discovery Session: The Ultimate First Date

We measure our worth by results. To get results, we build research-based plans, not whim-based ones. Our ideas are creative, vibrant and zesty, but always grounded in research. Style plus substance. Beauty and brains. We’ll never counsel you to execute tactics without the strategic intelligence to back them up.

The CFM Discovery Session doesn’t take place in a courtroom or involve a trail, but the session is a critical first step to becoming your partner and creating made-to-win strategies.

The session is primary research in the form of a mastermind meeting between your team and ours. We’ll learn all about your business, goals, resources, pressure points and past efforts. You live and breathe your brand everyday. The session allows us to dive in beside you to match our marketing PR expertise with your dreams and goals.

Our PR team develops a custom interview question set for your Discovery Session. Here’s a sample of some of the things we ask about.


What do you want your brand to do within the next six months, one year, five years? What’s the big idea, the vision, the raison d'etre?


Objectives are measurables we track throughout our relationship to monitor program success. We discover objectives as we break down your goals. What do you need to achieve? Here are some examples:

  • To increase sales of our product by 30 percent in our local market

  • To engage new audiences in community decision-making

  • To attract 1,000 consumers to our summer event series

  • To build relationships with industry thought-leaders

Choosing the Winning Strategy

Marketing PR is all about attracting a target audience for a product, service or idea.Once upon a time marketing and public relations were seen as the opposite sides of two different coins. Now marketing PR is viewed as a smart combination of communications skills.

When mass media ruled, marketing was all about advertising. You could run an ad in the major local newspaper, a national magazine or TV network and be assured of a huge audience. But those days have vanished with the rise of the Internet.

It takes more nowadays than a clever ad to reach and captivate your target audience. In fact, the key is finding your target audience.

That's where the discipline of marketing is important. Marketers use research techniques to identify and confirm their prime audience, so messages and promotions can be tailored for them.

PR Versus Advertising

The real choice isn't between advertising and PR — it's between what works and what doesn't.The digital age and increasing segmentation of media outlets has caused many advertisers to rethink how they spend their marketing dollars. Public relations has been by and large the beneficiary.

The value of paid advertising is knowing when and where your message will be placed. That knowledge may be reassuring at one level, but unnerving if you aren't sure the eyeballs of your target audience will see your ad. Newspapers and magazines are slimmer today because there is less advertising, not less news.

Ads give advertisers and their ad agencies more creative control of their message. But again, you can't always control what your readers or viewers watch — or how and when they will watch it. TIVO, fast-forward buttons on TV remote controls and Hulu have replaced a quick rise from the couch to get a beer during commercial breaks.

PR professionals admittedly have less control over placing stories and conveying key messages. What they do have going for them are strategies and tactics that pull people to a story, not push a message. Editorial content seems more credible.

PR Matches Strategy to Need and Budget

Advertising can build awareness, but its days of building a positive reputation are numbered.Public relations bests advertising as a way to build a corporate reputation, according to new data from the Harris Interactive Reputational Quotient study.

Advertising didn't succeed in improving positive perceptions of corporations, says Robert Fronk of Harris Interactive. "Media recall is playing a dominant role on the impact of reputations for both good and bad."

The findings are based on online responses in December from 17,000 people, between the ages of 18 and 65. Some 64 percent of respondents recalled seeing an advertisement, while 40 percent said they read about a company in print or heard about it via word-of-mouth. Only 6 percent recalled reading a blog.

Fronk cited Johnson & Johnson. Its reputation took a hit in 2011, he said, largely in response to negative media coverage and online comments about the company's product recalls and quality-control issues. The venerable company's advertising failed, he added, to prop up its reputation in the shadow of bad news.

Naming Names

What you name something is one of the most important steps marketers may take if a product, project or program is to be successful. A creative and memorable name is an important part of your brand identity. There are no hard rules about creating clever names, but here are a few guidelines to follow:

Be collaborative, part 1: Start with a small group and brainstorm ideas. It’s rare, but you actually may hit a grand slam right off the bat. If you are so lucky, test the name with a select few of the target audience. CFM was cooking when it came up with the concept for “Old Voltage Meter,” a commemorative ale celebrating the 100th anniversary of Local 48 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Be collaborative, part 2: Sometimes it helps to take your initial thoughts to a larger group. When managing communications for the Portland City Hall renovation project, CFM asked top PR professionals for public relations agencies and local governments to serve as volunteers in a focus group. The city was delighted with the outcome. The group came up with the phrase “ Historic Portland City Hall: Restoring the Heart of the City.”

Be visual: Words alone are not enough. Powerful images are a must. In the IBEW and city hall examples, the memorable phrases that were selected inspired wonderful visuals. A great name influenced the logo introducing a new neighborhood to Portlanders — “The Brewery Blocks: In Portland’s Pearl District” — and associating the exciting new project with the energy of the trendy urban community.

The Marriage of Marketing and PR

Marketing and public relations are not strangers. They are essential parts of effective, integrated campaigns.A recent blog charted the differences between marketing and public relations. With all deference, the two have merged in a marriage of strengths. Whatever differences exist are mainly matters of tactics.

The marketing mindset is distinguished by

  • Strong reliance on research;
  • Targeting a specific audience;
  • Shaping information for that audience; and
  • Delivering the information in familiar channels for that audience.

Honesty Before Love in Hiring a PR Firm

Hiring a public relations firm is like marriage. It helps if you like them and have something in common before you fall in love.

Sometimes a PR firm and an organization are just oil and water. The best way to avoid a bad relationship is to spell out in advance what a successful relationship would be like.

Gini Dietrich, writing for the blog Spin Sucks, lists 17 great questions to pose when hiring a PR firm. Her list includes: