Public Relations Tactics

International Conference Recap: To Stand Out, Arianna Huffington Says That You Need Drama

November 9, 2009

Blogs, Twitter and other new media are changing the way public relations and journalism are done, and the tactics that have worked for PR professionals for decades are becoming less and less effective.

That is one of the messages that Arianna Huffington delivered during her General Session speech today before nearly 3,000 PR professionals and students at the 2009 PRSA International Conference in San Diego.

“There’s no question that this is an amazing turning point,” said Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post and co-host of public radio’s “Left, Right and Center” program.

“For those of you who have been in the profession for a long time, you suddenly have to learn all these new techniques and absorb all these new tools,” she said.

For example, the press release was for many years a primary tool of communicating, but now is becoming obsolete, Huffington said.

“We increasingly know that it’s more effective to give the information to someone with a [Web] site or a blog or another way that is going to immediately get it out into the world that we want to communicate with.”

While traditional media was something that people consumed while sitting on the couch, consuming new media is like galloping on a horse, Huffington said. People want to be engaged with the information they receive, and the ability to interact through Twitter, blogs, Facebook and other online channels is very important.

Huffington said that online media outlets suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“We don’t just write about a story,” she said. “If it matters, we stay with the story and stay with the story until there is impact.”

PR professionals should adopt the same approach to getting their information out, Huffington said.

“It’s not enough anymore to just put out something and assume and that it is going to be absorbed.”

One way to help get a message absorbed is to incorporate drama, she said. “We are all so used to massive streams of information that for something to stand out, there needs to be drama,”

Huffington said she recently used drama when writing a piece for the Huffington Post saying that President Obama shouldn’t escalate the war in Afghanistan. She wrote that Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama Administration’s most vocal critic of escalating the war, should resign immediately if Obama doesn’t listen to him.

“If I’d expressed same thing without framing it that Biden should resign, I would’ve gotten 1/1,000th of the attention,” she said. “Framing things in a dramatic way is key.”

Another way to get a message heard is to make people care about an issue, Huffington said.

“It’s one thing to say that unemployment is 10.2 percent,” she said. “It’s another thing to tell stories about the people who are being affected by the growing unemployment and the growing foreclosures.”

Everyone has the capacity for empathy, Huffington said, and appealing to that can be very effective.

“In many of the causes that many of you are going to be supporting – from corporate PR to cause-related PR to political PR – touching people’s hearts is so much more important than touching people’s minds,” she said. “That’s the most powerful way to get people to act, whatever the action that you want them to take is.”

After her speech, Huffington led a sit-down interview on stage with Wendell Potter, APR, who walked away from a 20-year career as a corporate PR executive at CIGNA to become a health care advocate.

For more, please read the Q-and-A with Potter from The Strategist.


Erik Battenberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.


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