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How Is PR Changing?

I get this question all the time. How is PR changing and what can I do to adapt? For starters, everyone that’s asked that question is on the right track. It’s the ones that don’t ask that question that I worry about. PR is always changing. So is media. So is everything.

The real question is how quickly do you adapt to change? Are you in tune with changes in your industry? Part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to help others learn about the changes at hand, and what they can do to stay current.

There’s a lot of discussion out there about all the change going on in PR and the media world. For starters, social media has served as a swift kick in the slacks for all of us. If you’re not plugged into the conversation, you will be left behind. The same advice you’ve been giving clients for years is no longer valid.

So Is PR Changing?

Honestly, I don’t think PR is changing in a traditional sense. If you went to college for PR, whip out your old textbooks. Look at the first couple of chapters and you’re bound to see a hub and spoke diagram with your organization at the center, and all its various publics (audiences) as the spokes. We still need to communicate – and manage relationships – with these audiences. That will never change.

What has changed is the direction of the arrows in traditional mass communications models. Back in the day, you had your message, the medium and the mass. Rip that page out of the book and throw it away. Today, you have people interacting with people. It’s two-way, with a lot more listening going on. You still rely on a medium to communicate your message – but you use it to listen now, and there are a lot of media options.

Your Audience Has a Voice

One of the most significant changes in PR over the past few years is your audience now has a voice, and they’re not afraid to use it. Happy or angry consumers have just as much influence (if not more) over your audiences as an anchor on the nightly news. You can’t ignore what’s being said about you. You know this, but are you acting on this information? What are you doing to embrace the voice of your audiences? This is where the real opportunity is.

Today, your “publics” are people. New approaches are needed to monitor the conversation and engage in meaningful dialogue with these people. Those organizations that get this are already reaping sizable returns on their efforts. Organizations like Zappos, Dell or JetBlue come to mind – you’ve no doubt heard about the success they’ve had leveraging social media to engage in conversations with customers in new ways that drive the bottom line.

Don’t Forget Measurement

Another area where PR is changing is how we measure the results of our work product. The ‘book of thud’ approach to reporting on PR success is outdated – surprisingly, many organizations still measure PR results by the number of placements generated per month.

While it’s important that you adapt to changing methods for communicating with audiences and monitoring the conversation, it’s equally important that you adapt to new approaches for measuring results. We’re quickly approaching a time when PR activity will have a direct correlation to sales, customer retention, customer satisfaction or employee retention. Many organizations are already there.

How are you measuring your results today? Can you demonstrate the reach of your message in people, not estimated impressions? Do you have an accurate bead on sentiment about your organization or products across your target audiences? Do they love you or hate you? Worse, do they care at all?

Can you track your PR results all the way through traffic and conversion on your website? Do you know how much revenue your PR investment generated last year? It’s possible to track all of this now – the tools and processes are out there, you just have to know what you’re looking for.

If you want to explore this area further, take a look at some of the sales and marketing automation platforms out there. Solutions from Marketo, Pardot, or HubSpot are currently helping organizations maximize their investments in lead generation. It’s only a matter of months (no joke) before these systems will be applied to measuring ROI from PR programs. Again, many are doing this already.

Technology Innovation and PR

We’ve all witnessed the impact Twitter has had on the way we research, consume and share information with individuals. Twitter is just the beginning. New technologies and developments around search engine optimization (local search, people search and local search for example) are increasing the demand for search-savvy PR professionals. New social technologies, such as location-aware mobile applications or augmented reality applications have real-world implications for the practice of public relations. Lucky for us, subscribing to the RSS feeds for Mashable and TechCrunch will keep us current enough.

Skills to Pay the Bills

I don’t think you need to know HTML or CSS to be in PR. I don’t think you need to be an expert in WordPress or Twitter either. If you have these skills, can write great content, and persuade an audience with your message, you’ll make more money than me. Honestly, writing is still the most important skill a PR professional needs to have – perhaps now more than ever. If there were one area I would tell college students to focus on, it would be learning how to be a better writer. It has so many applications in PR, journalism and beyond.

The Changing Media Landscape

We are entering the true information age, where more information sources exist than ever before. Media organizations are in the midst of figuring out new business models to adapt to all this change. This means you’re stuck trying to figure it all out too, as you rely on the media (in all forms of its definition) to get your message out.

One particular area to follow is the need for media organizations to further differentiate themselves from the competition, particularly around quality of content. The only way media organizations will be able to get consumers to pay for content is to produce content of superior quality. This creates new challenges (and opportunities) for public relations professionals, as your content has to be better than ever. You’ll need to better adapt story angles and pitches to more demanding editorial standards. You’ll need to provide more exclusives, and get better at picking the right outlet, to reach the right audience, at the right time. And no more PR spam!

Change is for the Better

It can be overwhelming to keep up with all the changes going on in media and PR these days, but don’t get discouraged. To my previous point, there are more sources of information than ever. Answers to all your questions are only a search, tweet or mouse-click away. I can’t think of a better time to be in PR or journalism. With change comes immense opportunity. Will you adapt to capitalize on it?

What are the most significant changes taking place in PR today? How is your organization adapting to change? What are you doing to adapt to change and advance in your profession?

(Image Credit: Massive Change by 416style)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • Patty Swisher

    Great post. Its funny, I just recently finished my master’s degree in journalism and mass communication with a focus on PR. I wanted to become a better writer; in addition to understanding the PR side a little better. The point is, not one of my classes taught me to be a better writer. In fact most of them didn’t even consider the quality of writing. While we ‘flirted’ with social media and its implications for PR, forget about really understanding HTML or CSS. I think the academic world is still slow to catch up to the skills needed in the real world. The key is a continuous quest for knowledge and wading through the myriad of sources claiming to be experts.

    • Jeremy Porter

      Wow, that kinda bums me out. I majored in PR and journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University – writing was at the core of every class. We also did a lot of role playing (i.e. practiced pitching or fielding pitches). I’m curious – what did your school place the most significant emphasis on?

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    It’s the how that’s changing, not the what. As you say it’s still reaching publics, but the where (media) and the how (social media tools like blogs) have changed. It’s also as much pull as it is push; PR cannot just shove out newsletters and releases, and now blogs and SM releases for pick up. Bloggers, journalists, media outlets are pulling and creating their own content about companies and brands.

    Also the messages (what) have changed. It’s a shift in thinking, adapting the messages to be more personal, more transparent, less self-promotional. PR is not about ME, US, WE and corporate hype but You and Your and how we help You, putting the publics in the driver’s seat more than ever. FWIW.

  • http://www.scglegalprnetwork.com Paramjit L. Mahli

    A great post with solid advice. I do think people entering the world of public relations need to go back to basics and revisit those pesky textbooks. Yes, we have more tools to communicate our message and it certainly is a two way conversation. Like your posts very much. They insightful. Cheers, P

  • http://www.carltonprmarketing.com Bobbie Carlton

    I’ll chime in with the “Excellent Post” group. I especially like the emphasis on writing. I just posted a similar conversation on my blog — Content Creators Win.

    In 1994 I remember looking at the Web and thinking to myself, “Uh, oh. This is going to kill the media.” It took a little longer than I thought but we’ve seen the devastation among the journalists, and the resulting impact on PR folks. It’s the ones who are social media savvy and good writers/communicators who are doing well.

  • http://nicolena10.blogspot.com Nikki Stephan

    Thanks for this comprehensive post. All those who proclaim PR is dead should read this because you very eloquently prove that PR is a changed industry…not one that’s dying.

    I agree with you that writing is still the most important skill a PR pro can possess. The way we write as professionals has definitely changed. It’s no longer OK to send out press releases full of industry jargon and with quotes from the CEO saying how excited he is about this announcement (I wish I knew why that was ever acceptable in the first place). I’ve found the biggest change with writing media materials is that they should be written more like a story/article or a blog post. And they need to actually include news!

    It will be interesting to see how PR continues to shift and mold moving forward. I think the hardest part for people isn’t the process of change – it’s actually accepting that a change needs to take place in order to continue succeeding in this profession.

    • Jeremy Porter

      You know, ‘comments’ are a perfect example of how PR is changing. Everyone gets to speak their mind. Lucky for me, you liked the post (read my post on why interns shouldn’t pitch if you want to see some negative comments). :-)

  • http://meghancallahan99.wordpress.com Meghan Callahan

    I am graduating in May with a Public Relations major and am happy to say that I feel very confident with social media. That being said, there has always been a bit of anxiety around this seemingly unpredictable phenomenon. Especially as someone who is trying to enter a field where they are suppose to be the liaison between corporations and the media or publics. Thankfully, your post has put my worrying mind to ease, at least a little. It is an excellent point you make that this is the age of information and that anything anyone could ever need to know is right there on our computer screens. I will also make sure to keep these textbooks I previously thought would be good for nothing other than some quick cash at the end of the semester! Thanks a ton!

  • http://www.waxingphilosophical2.blogspot.com Kristen (@KristenEJ)

    Thank you for this analysis of trends. I’m back and forth on Twitter as a meaningful tool, as I have privacy concerns with it. However, Facebook Fan Pages, Myspace pages for musicians and niches like Ning pages for different industries are changes I see the most. I’m also figuring out how to really manage ROI and these wonderful new tools.

    • Jeremy Porter

      If you have privacy concerns with Twitter, you may want to read the fine print in the privacy policies of the other services you mentioned. That said, there’s no right and wrong answer for social media – or any other communication tool. Some people prefer the phone, others live behind email, and my niece is a txtr. To each his/her own. Find a way to play around with a social channel first – you’ll quickly see the value.

      • http://www.kristenejeffers.com Kristen @KristenEJ

        Jeremy,

        Thanks for the feedback. When I was thinking privacy, I was also thinking about clutter. I may need to do two twitter accounts(one business, one personal) so that I can lock down one and put all the people who use Twitter to talk about nothing on them. Also, I’ve been told to not use my twitter background to display my email address as there is no way for me to block that from other people. I actually like Twitter, I just hate that I auto followed so many junky feeds.

  • http://www.metaspring.com Case Ernsting

    “I can’t think of a better time to be in PR or journalism.”
    I love that line of your post. I’m a recent college grad and look for posts like these to keep motivated during such a tough time for jobs and PR. You’ll be glad to hear that college professors recognize the changing environment by urging writing skills above all other. Well-written papers and assignments are the calling card for college success and (hopefully) my career’s success.

    • Jeremy Porter

      Glad you liked it. We need more optimism in the field.

  • http://blog.vmrcommunications.com/ Hugh Macken

    Jeremy,

    Great post with a very interesting statement: “I don’t think PR is changing in a traditional sense.”

    I agree with you in the sense that PR is more truly PUBLIC relations, than ever before. But, as you indicate in your post, the context in which PR is “done” is changing radically largely as a result of the advent of the read/write Web (web 2.0). Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge have some excellent insights on this topic, as well, in their book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.” I’d highly recommend this book to your readers, especially those newly entering the PR field.

    Also, on the topic of tracking your PR results, I’m glad you mentioned services like those offered by Hubspot, which are superb tools for “inbound” marketing and measuring ROI. But you readers may also want to check out service platforms specifically designed for listening and measuring sentiment over time, such as those offered by Sysomos, Scoutlabs, Radian6, and (a completely free service) SocialMention.com. Some of these platforms offer extremely sophisticated analytics that can help PR professionals show positive ROI in dollar terms from specific PR initiatives.

    Thanks for a terrific and very timely post.

    • Jeremy Porter

      Great suggestion on @briansolis and @dbreakenridge ‘s book. I’ve suggested before and find it incredibly relevant for where we’re at today. I think you’re channeling me right now, because I’ve been outlining a post on “listening tools” – long overdue. The ones you mentioned are a great start. Thanks for the feedback.

      • http://blog.vmrcommunications.com/ Hugh Macken

        Jeremy,
        Just wanted to give you and your readers a heads up we will be interviewing Deirdre Breakenridge on March 8th on Blog Talk Radio on the topic of how PR is changing. Hopefully in the near future we’ll have a few folks from Radian6 and Scoutlabs to talk about listening online and social media ROI as it relates to PR, marketing and sales. I plan to continue to do these types of live interviews on social media / PR / digital marketing topics. On March 8th, we’ll be discussing the book I mention in my comment above. I’d actually be open to having a co-host if that is something you might be open to and if you are free on that day. Here is the URL: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hugh

  • http://solodovepr.wordpress.com/ Sandra

    I see a change in PR and I graduated in Dec of 2008. I think this was a very informative post and provides information and insight. And writting is by far one of the best skills to have in PR.

  • http://efrodriguez.com Ef Rodriguez

    Yay for measurement.

    But boo for any webinar/teleseminar that purports to demystify “new media metrics” but simply spends an hour telling the listener/viewer how important objectives and goals are. Any professional can tell you that. What people are tuning in for is insight into emerging best practices for social media measurement, a formula that some of our most vaunted influencers seem determined to keep to themselves.

    Lovely post, all the same.

    NOTE:
    I detest most influencers – especially the ones who reach a certain apex of influence that apparently absolves them of ever having to respond to people. Not you, dearest Porter, but others who I am too savvy to identify.

    • Jeremy Porter

      So you make a point about responding, and then I take a couple of days to get back to you. Nice. Sorry about that.

      I couldn’t agree more. To say it another way, listening is not measuring and measuring with no goals is not really measuring.

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  • Lauren Parr

    Your article was really helpful! While I do use social media frequently for some of my online classes in PR, I think it is great that you say to “whip out your old textbooks.” It would be nice to know that my college career was worth something! It is so true that the modern audience has a large voice in marketing, advertising, public relations, and virtually every area of communications. Not only does this benefit the people themselves, but the businesses and companies who may not have to spend as much money on research as they used to. Social media makes it easier for conversations, and it will be interesting to see how it can and will most likely benefit public relations in the future.

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  • Christine

    Great piece. I will definitely forward this to the principal at the boutique PR firm I intern for. We have clients who tweet for themselves, and I often cringe when I read them. I think it’s important that we step up and show them how to provide great content. The firm itself needs to step up and look at social media more closely if it wants to remain relevant.

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Thanks Christine, glad you liked the post. Let me know if there are any particular subjects you’d like me to write about.

  • AnneMarie

    Very insightful and interesting article! I am still learning about PR and this was an informative read. I agree that PR is constantly changing. It seems to be consistently evolving. Those who do not adapt risk being left behind and losing relevancy. I love that you say, “writing is still the most important skill a PR professional needs to have.” It is a necessary skill for PR professional to effectively engage with their audience. I think the change is good and those that embrace it will have new opportunities in PR. Thanks again!

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