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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 discussions 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 in to 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 The same advice you’ve been giving clients for years is no longer valid.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 MarketoPardot, 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 the 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?

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