Image created using Canva. Background Image Credit: "Day 36 - Candles" by Iain Watson on Flickr
As another year comes to an end, it’s common practice to look back and reflect on the past while musing about the possibilities of the year to come. With all the new social and online media tools that have popped up in the industry these days — and in the spirit of the season — we thought we’d take a look back at some ghosts of PR practices past. Although maybe not quite as dramatic as Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” it’s still enlightening to recognize how far our industry has come, and how technology has made our lives simpler and more efficient in so many ways.
Media Relations & Tools of the Past
For many of us who started out in this business nearly 20 years ago, generating media opportunities for clients used to be an expensive, challenging and time-consuming proposition. Not to mention, there were very few channels for reaching key influencers. Press conferences and media tours were common practice, often resulting in hefty travel expenses and a truck load of printed briefing books and media pieces. In addition, lining up these meetings could take days and weeks, trying to identify and connect with the right targets and then follow up with press materials via snail mail and fax machine! There were no fancy e-mail features for attachments and embedded links and no sharing capabilities in DropBox or Google Docs.
Remember Bacon’s, a cumbersome paperback serving as the sole sacred resource for media and analyst contacts? Now, that’s a blast from the past! Today we have comprehensive online media tools such as Cision and Meltwater, along with a plethora of social channels that offer personal profiles like LinkedIn, Facebook and Tumblr, to get the job done quickly and efficiently when it comes to providing valuable information on key influencers. We no longer have to worry about outdated information, especially important in a world where journalists are moving from one outlet to another and/or contributing to a number of different publications. Thanks to sophisticated Internet search tools, information is almost always accessible in a timely fashion.
Interactive Media and Digital Present
There is an abundance of online tools available today to help make our jobs more successful. User friendly graphic design programs like Canva allow us to create clever, eye-catching images to support storylines and messages in blog posts, social media, presentations and marketing campaigns, with the end result resembling something generated by a high-end graphics firm. Today’s smartphone is not only great for constant and more convenient communications — beyond the days of landlines and gigantic, heavy cellular Analog phones — but also acts as a video recorder, audio recorder and high-def camera. Believe it or not, nearly every tool of the trade is within our daily reach.
The evolution of these interactive media capabilities has rocked our world, enabling PR pros to instantly reach and deliver messages to key constituencies in visual and compelling ways. In the past, news releases, once bogged down with text-heavy, one-dimensional content, lacking supporting materials, left reporters hamstrung and frustrated as they were left only able to tell part of the story... Now press releases and pitches can be packaged with images and infographics, links to websites, and embedded video, for a stronger punch, and quick and easy access for more immediate consideration and online reporting!
Promises of Social Media and Future PR Success
One of the most astonishing and powerful advancements of our time, which continues to hold promise for the PR world today, was the introduction of Social Media. It’s this platform that has catapulted PR to a whole new level of reach, engagement and instantaneous communications.
Bygone are the days where corporate messaging and news had to be carefully timed for release. And once it was out (most prevalently in print form), there was no turning back. No opportunity for monitoring customer reactions, responding or commenting to questions or complaints, no way of even determining which audiences received/saw your information.
Today company news and updates can be made readily available to thousands with a click and a single Tweet. Facebook is a billboard for creativity, loaded with photographs and images from events. With social media outreach, audience delivery is direct, scheduling and posting is immediate and measurement is possible, giving PR pros a critical edge for leveraging their client’s or company’s information. Through specialized tools like Hootsuite, ContentGems and Flipboard, you have a birdseye view of how messages are being perceived and the number of influencers reached. Following like-minded individuals and industry thought leaders and regularly monitoring of posts through social listening allows for opportunities to take part in conversations and develop thought leadership. Because social media offers a direct line of communications, engagement becomes thoughtful smart and personal.
With any innovation, there always seems to be a few downsides lurking around the corner and obstacles to overcome. Although search tools like Google can make it easier to find what you are looking for, it can also make your job harder. Because the online world moves so fast, clients, journalists and co-workers’ expectations and needs are that much higher. When you’re in crunch mode, the higher volume of information coming across at faster speeds can be overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that all of your competitors have access to exactly the same information. As a PR pro, you have to be on top of your game because finding and maintaining that competitive edge can be challenging.
Here’s another thing: Once online, the message is no longer in your control. Social media lets clients, fans, competitors, and even the “haters” share their opinion, and that could go either way for you. Anyone can see their comments on your posts and they aren’t always going to be nice. As a PR pro, it’s your job to combat this! Social media managers exist now to monitor social presence — and to react promptly if negativity should arise. If you focus on creating true quality content, the resulting response will most likely be positive.
Yes, there is the occasional fright that comes with new technologies employed for PR purposes, but we prefer to look at the many benefits. The innovations we’ve seen over the last decade have brought significant improvements to the PR industry, transforming the way we do our business. I’m sure you would agree with me, it’s a pleasure to leave those ghosts of PR Past in their grave and embrace PR of the future, loaded with state-of-the-art online tools and exciting possibilities.