As PR practitioners we have a whole new set of challenges as our industry could arguably be changing faster than it has in decades. It’s hard to weed through the numerous resources available to help us harness the social Web, but the book “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” co-authored by Deirdre Breakenridge and Brian Solis, is a great resource that delves into the intersection of PR and social media from both strategic and tactical perspectives. I’ve had the opportunity to watch a panel discussion from both authors, as well as meet and speak with both of them in addition to reading the book. As thought leaders for our industry, Both Solis and Breakenridge offer forward thinking insight that can help us stay ahead of the game, and help paint PR as a critical tool for brand building and communication. After reading “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” I had the pleasure of digging a little deeper with Breakenridge.
In addition to co-authoring “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” Breakenridge is the author of PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences and. She is the Co-Founder and President of Mango! Marketing a PR, marketing and social media agency in the New York Metro area and also the Co-Founder of #PRStudChat, a dynamic monthly Twitter discussion with PR professionals, students and educators.
Who should be reading this book? Traditional PR practitioners, students, social media enthusiasts?
I would say, “All of the above.” Putting the Public Back in Public Relations is a useful resource for PR professionals, students and social media enthusiasts. I think it’s particularly important that PR students (the PR leaders of the future) understand how PR is changing and the dynamics of today’s media landscape. They also need to learn how to reach stakeholders by studying the sociology of the web and by using a new PR approach to build relationships and long-term value for their organizations.
We’re also finding that business executives, entrepreneurs, marketing, and branding professionals in various industries are discovering helpful information and guidance within the chapters of the book.
In the book you talk about the old way of PR (mass distribution of pitches and releases) and the new way, which is all about relationships. While we have many new tools to help us get closer to the press and consumers, haven’t PR scholars always taught us to build relationships? Has the strategy changed or just the channels?
You are absolutely correct; PR is about building relationships with an organizations’ public(s) including the media, government, analysts, the financial community and organizations within the community. However, in years past, we’ve relied heavily on the credible third party endorsement to reach our customers. Today, through social media tools and resources you can connect and engage directly, in a much more meaningful way.
It’s the two-way conversations in the social sphere that allow brands to get closer to people in web communities (in places that brands were never invited to participate before) and our communication strategy includes interacting with new players (A-list bloggers, tastemakers/trendsetters and the magic middle), new platforms and channels, and new ways to engage with groups of people who become helpful resources rather than a target demographic or statistic. When you can add value in a community (answer questions, provide useful content, solve a customers problem, etc.), the relations strengthen the bond with the brand.
You go into detail about the difference between bloggers and traditional press. With talk of FTC guidelines and the evolving face of traditional journalism, do you think we can expect a hybrid of the two? Who will be at the helm in five years?
We’re already seeing a hybrid of the two, as many journalists are becoming bloggers. Our chapter on Traditional vs. New Journalism in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations clearly points out that although journalists can be bloggers, bloggers are not journalists (unless they go to school and are formally trained with a degree in journalism). However, because the FTC requires all bloggers to disclose their material affiliation with a brand, we are one step closer to creating similar boundaries for all parties that have a relationship with a brand. There are still many distinctions and questions that will arise, as we move forward, but for the most part it’s important for all parties to be open and transparent about the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.
With respect to who will be at the helm in five years, whether that’s your journalist, journalist turned blogger or citizen journalists, it’s the people who have the influence and who are seen as credible and reliable sources in a community.
In chapter 5 you give an example of a Twitter conversation between Robert Scoble and a number of others in which he talks about his preferences for correspondence. He indicates that he prefers to be contacted in a more public way by PR people, rather than email. First, as one of the early adopters of social media, do you think it’s safe to say that Robert might be in the minority in his stance? I know if I pitched some of my food or fashion contacts this way they’d be put off. Second, from both a PR and journalism perspective, do you run the risk of showing all your cards? How does this lend itself to exclusives?
I think that being an early adopter could definitely affect the way that you want to be contacted. However, it’s also a matter of personal preference. I know many bloggers, who if you reach out by DM to them with a question on Twitter, they will ask you to contact them by email and provide an email address to you. Or, if you are in a conversation in a LinkedIn Group you might follow up with that influencer in a Facebook message. Once again, it really depends on the person.
With respect to exclusives, whether it’s a blogger or a journalist, all parties have an interest to keep the information embargoed, so as to report it at the specified time rather than opening it up in the public forum through an open pitch on a social network. The rule of thumb for both media relations and blogger relations is that you are dealing with people who have preferences. You always have to do your homework so that you know what will interest your bloggers and/or journalists and the groups that they reach as well as taking into consideration their personal preference on how they want to be contacted.
You give some fantastic tips on how to navigate the social Web, but I know a lot of agency practitioners are wondering where we can fit into the mix? What role can we play in assisting our clients in execution of a social media strategy?
Anyone who said PR is dead is not thinking about public relations in the sense of building relationships and strategic communications to do so. The same type of strategic thinking is critical in social media outreach. PR people will always be tasked with listening and understanding the market, creating communication that has value and is meaningful to audiences, and measuring the effects of the communication on the public(s). We will be helping clients with their listening or monitoring strategy, communications and content strategy, channel/distribution strategy, engagement and measurement strategy, and will work very closely with marketing communications and web marketers to implement an integrated PR, social and digital marketing strategy.
Drafting bylined articles for our clients used to be one of our many tasks, yet now that blogging is taking the place of bylined articles, ghost writing is now being accused of not being transparent. Why are they so different (Or are they?)? Is there a happy medium?
There is a tremendous difference between the one-way message of the byline article and the nature of the two-way conversations through a blog. In the past, when you wrote a byline article and was published in a print publication the options for the reader to respond were a letter to the editor or to reach out directly to the author, if that person’s contact information was included in the article.
Today, however, the blog post is a means to direct, two-way communication. For that reason, blogs shouldn’t be ghost written as the conversation starts on the blog and does not end there. The blog post and the related comments need to be written by the person who wrote the original post (although there are times when the communications department will help with formulating a response to an unfavorable comment). Social media is about transparency and openness; breaking down the barriers of communication so customers can get closer to their brands and see more of a human side behind the corporate moniker. When people are able to interact directly rather than going through a third party or through an op ed piece in a magazine the bond with the brand is strengthened.
In chapter 18, you outline some useful ways to define and measure success. What do you say to a company who asks how long it will take to start seeing a shift in online chatter and when it will positively affect the bottom line?
I believe every company is different and seeing a shift in online chatter can truly depend on a number of factors. For instance, where and how is the company building community? Are they participating in the right social networks based upon listening and observing communities and cultures prior to participation? Is the organization allowing its employees to participate on behalf of the brand? It’s your employees who can support communication and to be there to help customers as questions arise in real time. Is the brand setting real, measurable objectives and placing the proper measurement tools in place to capture the results. There are instances when companies want to measure the results of social networking related to the company’s bottom line yet do not set up their programs to actually capture those types of measurements. Instead their measurement is based on conversations, comments, retweets and brand awareness or sentiment.
Another consideration is the type of content you are sharing in those networks and if it is the preferred content based on community activity. Close observation of the interactions between community members and the type of information they share will enable you to tailor your program to build more chatter and to have influencers in the community view your content as meaningful and pass it along their followers.
How important do you think it is for PR agencies to practice what they preach? Meaning that they have a presence on the Web in the form of Facebook and Twitter profiles, blogs, blog comments etc… Who should be manning those personas?
I think it’s important for PR professionals to practice what they preach, and in order to properly educate our brands on social media communications then we must be listening and engaging the right way with people in social networks. As for the agencies, it’s important to realize that depending on the size of the organization (and I would say this for any company), it’s not the quantity of profiles or the number of social networks, it’s the quality of the participation and making connections. Most clients will usually want to see what you have done with other companies with respect to social networking, but as far as screening an agency, just as you would check out a firm’s website, you will look to see who’s blogging, if they are on Facebook or Twitter.
Manning the social networks comes down to how you want your employees to participate. According to a blog post on Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategist, there are several ways that companies allow their employees to participate in the social web. They are as follows: Clueless participation (it’s a free for all), shut it down so no one participates, the corporate spokesperson, the blessed employees (only select employees participate) and we’re all in (which means that everyone participates). The best possible scenario for the agency would be that everyone is empowered to be creative collaborators and we’re speaking as one army and one voice.
The book was chock full of both strategic and tactical direction. We all agree that today’s tactics are changing with the speed of light. How long do you think the book’s content will remain relevant?
The book’s content will remain relevant with the approach to New PR. The tools and tactics may change, new intricacies and challenges of different industries will surface and we know that technology is constantly evolving. But, it’s the overall concept and the strategic theme of the book; PR is moving away from broadcast and looks at engagement, community building and relationships through a different lens. Participating in a community is more about sociology and cultural anthropology than it is technology. As all of the social networks connect and we see concentric circles of communication colliding, we become one big human network. PR professionals will be helping their brands to determine when and how to engage and of course with the right groups which is explained in great detailed throughout the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations?”
The public relations industry is very much alive and as PR, communications and social media professionals we’re poised to take a strategic role in social media communications on behalf of our brands. Social media is changing the way that we advise our brands and its also forcing the reinvention of PR. The change in the landscape and the new approach has created a web savvy hybrid PR professional. The PR people of today and those who lead the industry in the future will be listeners and conversationalists, customer service representatives, relationship marketers, viral marketers, web 2.0 marketers, market analysts and social media influencers.
Rachel Kay is president of RKPR, a boutique agency specializing in national consumer brands. With experience in both the agency and in-house setting, Rachel has worked with top tier brands including Kashi, ConocoPhillips, Clinique, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Samsung, Kodak, Givenchy and many more. In addition to co-founding SoCalPRBlog, she also writes at www.CommuniKaytrix.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.