Adapting to a new era: A rallying cry for PR pros

May 30, 2013

Welcome to the new era of media, one that seamlessly uses any and all channels of mass communication — from print to mobile — to speak directly and dynamically within its market space and to its audiences.

Content is king because companies are now leveraging their subject matter as a unique selling point and key differentiator. As a result, a PR practitioner’s focus is zeroing in on the exact messages that align all of the company’s communications (internally and externally, social media and white papers, thought leadership and sales collateral).

However, are we making this shift industry-wide? Are we understanding the implications if this shift doesn’t happen?

My point is not that media relations or any other aspect of our profession is going away, but that our adaptability as a profession is at a critical junction. Like any other career, our strategies and tactics are changing daily to keep pace with society.

What was once standard practice is now dated, obsolete or irrelevant. For example, it’s common to occasionally forgo the media to reach an audience directly through a strong online presence using blogs, tweets and other social channels.

Now, we can own that shift by voicing our ideas and revealing our expertise. As PR practitioners, we counsel our companies and clients on the sustainable value of marketplace adaptability and leadership, but sometimes, we are the last to turn the tables on ourselves. 

Embracing creative destruction

PRWeek/Allison+Partners released the second annual 2012 C-Factors Survey in November that studied how creativity, collaboration and culture are infusing themselves into the communications function.

According to the report, which surveyed leading CEOs, CMOs and other senior executives, “Creative destruction in its modern business form — the act of tearing down the old ways of doing something and starting anew — is a vital way for corporations today to ensure they stay relevant.”

As a result, 88 percent of respondents said that creative destruction (aka, tearing down the old to begin anew) is critical to moving business forward today.

We can learn from this insight and apply it to our own profession. Some executives used to think that public relations was just an extra enhancement, and we were brought in to “do our thing” once the big advertising campaign was created (without our input). Today, public relations focuses on building influence and leading outreach to stakeholders.

We understand better than anyone how to craft a message that simultaneously conveys meaning, leadership and information. Other disciplines such as advertising, marketing, creative and digital can activate those messages through mediums to round out the campaign.

Crafting compelling content

In an interview with PR News, Mickey G. Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA’s 2013 chair and CEO, said, “the core work of PR really centers on content creation. Of course, that’s much more than writing — it’s the visual, it’s storytelling.”

Writing without a consistent message won’t sell or engage. In this newly coined “engagement economy,” we have moved from big media and big corporations dictating the conversation to individuals and smaller companies having more of a say in what people are talking about.

It’s about creatively turning ideas into compelling content that echoes the brand’s story and builds a platform for an organization to inspire, persuade, activate and inform.

Marketing consultant and social media expert Chris Brogan has a formula for content: “First, earn an audience. Second, nurture a community.  Third, empower a network.”  As always in his succinct style, Brogan summarizes the mission here.

Many of our tried-and-true PR practices can remain intact, but we should view our actions and responsibility around what we say, do and think through a different lens. By redefining public relations around our delivery of key messages and the quality of content, we will elevate our value.

Redefining the profession

This is a rallying cry to let go of a method of practice that has worked in the past. I’m a mid-timer in this business having just more than 20 years in the game, and I’ve seen a lot change during that time. We need to continue to redefine and recreate what we do and what we offer to our executives, clients, employees and key stakeholders.

We can’t allow anyone else to define our role for us.  Too often, people want to lump public relations together with marketing and advertising, despite the fact that we provide services that are unique to our profession. 

We aren’t on the sidelines. We are deeply involved in strategy and innovation — if we’re doing it right.

Alicia Thompson, APR
Alicia Thompson, APR, is vice president of communications and public relations for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and is a veteran communications executive with more than 20 years of experience. Thompson serves as president of PRSA’s Georgia Chapter.


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