There’s been talk lately about the PR pro’s evolution from publicist to social media strategist. While I wholeheartedly support the increased attention to social media, the underlying message is disconcerting. For too long, media relations and the hot pursuit of “ink” has been our reason for being. Let’s pop that bubble right now.
PR has never meant press relations, but to look at the industry’s widespread propagation of that mantra it would seem that is the case. How is it that we term ourselves publicists, when our true role encompasses so much more? Perhaps if we treated the industry as a more strategic practice instead of focusing on getting a stack of clips, we’d have more seasoned and capable professionals in the field instead of an army of cold callers smiling, dialing, and pissing off droves of journalists and bloggers in the process.
It’s interesting that despite the growth of social media and the decline of mainstream media, the importance of the latter has stayed virtually the same. There’s still a lot of resistance, most of all from PR professionals, to admit that traditional media relations is declining in importance and we live in a brave new world where social media is taking over.
A hit in the Wall Street Journal is a great coup and will no doubt cement the reputation of your brand with your consumers, your business partners, and your competition. But it’s becoming less and less valuable to the bottom line as social media grows exponentially in influence.
One example that continues to blow my mind is when a client of mine was included in a Thanksgiving-day GMA segment – a major accomplishment for our team. The client saw thousands of inbound leads occur as a result and was pleased as punch with the results.
Imagine his (and our!) surprise when a few months later, when we secured the client blog coverage on TMZ – which was still a relatively small celebrity-focused news site at the time – to phenomenal results that blew GMA’s out of the water. When a niche-focused Web site can bring in more bang than a nationally-syndicated morning show, you stop and pay attention.
The Internet tips the scales in favor of social media by making it far easier to track online coverage that leads to site traffic, leads from that traffic that convert into sales, and gauge customer opinions by participating in the online discussion.
Beyond online coverage’s potential for being far more successful than mainstream media coverage, the possibilities for community engagement is endless and gives companies a better chance than ever before of dialoguing with their most important publics: The end user. These direct-to-consumer conversations are arguably the most important for a company, and PR can strategize for and drive those conversations.
Social media provides PR professionals an opportunity to take back their rightful role as big thinkers, strategists and high-touch relationship builders, relegating media relations to a more modest (and arguably more deserved) position with the rest of a company’s key audiences.
It’s no wonder most clients still value the old school “ink” and pooh-pooh social media coverage as a lesser accomplishment when we so poorly represent ourselves as mere media lackeys. Yes, it’s time to expand beyond the publicist role, but in the process, we should realize that we never should have represented ourselves so narrowly in the first place.