Posts Tagged 'digital disruption'

Teaching Public Relations in a Digital World

Public Relations

As a PR professional, I recently had occasion to step back into a role I occupied almost two decades ago: that of PR teacher. Of course, I’ve taught numerous media courses since then—writing, social media marketing, speech, media studies– but none of them specifically public relations. It’s interesting because in the ’90s I actually led the public relations sequence for a California university. Nevertheless, even though I’m active in public relations every day, I hadn’t really had occasion to think about how I’d teach it today in light of all the changes in the digital and social world that have impacted the industry.

Given that opportunity after being invited by a school for a visit, I came to realize the new way I would teach public relations today. Here’s what I decided: I’d teach PR similar to how I teach social media marketing,college teacher with emphasis on content, strategy, marketing, storytelling, plus visual storytelling, and with an understanding of cross-platform integration through Web, digital, social and mobile. With that, I’d underscore these points:

  • Content, means good writing, even great writing … finding your own voice and how it connects w/ others.
  • Competent execution: You don’t have to be great, but you have to be good … you have to understand the fundamentals, and then some. Hopefully, you can always team with other specialists to make execution great.
  • Attitude for collaboration: Understand that expertise is increasingly part of a shared experience. Knowing how to work in groups and teams is a fundamental. Politico CEO Jim VandeHei said it best when he shared his internal memo on Politico’s culture:

“People who thrive here are highly talented, self-motivated doers who are brimming with passion and a desire to win. …

There is no tolerance for office drama and problem ducking. Litigate differences in person, bluntly but respectfully. If a problem arises, confront it directly and don’t waste the time and energy griping about it with others. And then move on.”

 I’d also add: Be familiar with the new “tools of the trade.” For public relations, this is no longer the caricature of an individual practitioner with simply a phone, a competent media list, and a news release or a news pitch. Today it might mean creating a Storify, Flipboard, Paperli or infographic. It’s also about understanding digital, social, and mobile platforms, how they operate, intersect, and how they can work best together in a marketing context. What does Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., offer a brand? How can they be effectively used to create and advance a product or organizational narrative? PR and marketing today is about the synergies you can create across platforms. It’s formally called “channel agnosticism—using paid, earned, owned and social to, as described by Jennifer Risi of Ogilvy Public Relations, “tell a cohesive story that resonates with discerning consumers.”

What’s your idea of the best methods and practices for teaching public relations in a digital world? Let us know.

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Public Relations is Tough Stuff (And How You Can Prepare Against Guerilla Tactics & Message Interruption)

gold megaphone

In the myriad daily matters that go along with our PR jobs, it’s easy for pros to forget that the battle to win hearts and minds, and influence behavior, can be tough and brutal stuff. I was reminded of this in late August when Greenpeace managed to hijack Shell’s thunder with a masterful prank. [A series of uncomplimentary banners unfurling at carefully orchestrated moments during one of Shell’s high-profile sponsored events.] The first news stories of the occurrence broke on August 28; some 21 hours later, Shell was reported to be starting a review of its global PR strategy, looking to streamline the roster of agencies on its multimillion dollar account. Related? Who knows? Such reviews are often months in the making; but, it’s a sure bet that the prior incident came up in the discussions.

While I can’t help but be impressed with Greenpeace’s moxie, I also felt a bit of Shell’s inevitable angst. As a PR and event planner, I know how much hard work and painstaking detail is involved in orchestrating a big event. Yet, one has to give it to Greenpeace for being dedicated and clever in its advocacy—determined to deliver its message at the lowest possible cost. Therein resides the PR pro’s dilemma.

cellphone device

An Age of Disruption

Let’s face it, we live in an age ready-made for message interruption and guerilla tactics: With social, mobile, digital media, and beyond, the world has never been more interactive. Ergo, the ability (threat) of having your campaign/message/event hijacked has probably never been greater. So what, if anything, can professional communicators do to plan for the unexpected and minimize possible threats. Here are few ideas we came up. We’d love to hear yours.

1.       Think Like Your Adversary. Don’t think so narrowly as to simply focus only on your message(s). Anticipate adversarial points of view in the environment and prepare relevant counterpoints to them. Today issues and reputation management are as much a part of ongoing PR as anything else.

2.      Brainstorm The Ways Your Message Could Be Hijacked. Be sure to look for unintended consequences: Consider the ways that your message or method of delivery could be appropriated, and build in necessary safeguards. Plan how you will execute those safeguards.

3.       Establish Appropriate Monitoring And Response Mechanisms.  Match your response resources to the anticipated degree of threat. This can be everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. (It never ceases to amaze us, for example, how many organizations encourage live-tweeting from events, then fail to designate someone to monitor the Twitterstream!) Again, think brand journalism, or, coming from our background, online newsrooms and political war rooms.

4.       Rehearsals, Status Checks, Secured Access. Of course, where possible, rehearsals and, increasingly, safety/status checks, diminish the margin for error.

Who knows whether any of these could have prevented the debacle for Shell in its highly contentious, long-running battles with Greenpeace and other environmental groups. Yet, any one of them might just be enough to save your next event.

Don’t forget, experience is its own best teacher: tell us your “war stories.” Talkback with more lessons learned!


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