I’ll be honest with you – I started my journey in public relations having very little idea of what public relations actually entailed. Coming into my current company at first as an intern, I was looking to get my feet wet in an industry that close friends and family thought I would always be good at, but had never pursued. I was a blank slate. Blanker than a newly opened Word Doc. News releases, media advisories, pitching, briefings – it was a world I never even knew existed. I figured most companies made headlines and stories just because they were cool enough to catch the attention of a reporter. I was clearly unaware, but my learning curve over the past year (now as a full-time employee) makes Everest look weak. For context, my agency works mostly with B2B software delivery vendors. We have a small market to gear our efforts towards, and get to write about sexy topics like DevOps, Continuous Delivery, automation, pipelines, among other techie trends.
There is still a lot to learn, but having this outsider perspective has allowed me to view public relations through a lens that most fail to see through. “Public relations is outdated” is the lens that many (unfortunately) have. I will tell you – PR is one of the most innovative and intuitive industries out there today. The problem, I think, is that the term public relations is outdated, not the practice itself. If it’s not public relations, then what is it? It’s something we think about every day as an agency and are constantly trying to redefine.
What we see is that the Digital Era has completely transformed the way businesses catch the public’s attention. With an increased focus on content – especially around blogging – and the rise of social media as king, PR is not just about news releases and martini lunches anymore. What people (consumers, media, analysts, etc) want to see today is whether or not you are saying something compelling and different from your competitors. What makes you so great? How are you contributing to the community? What is it about your product or service that makes it so special, so much better than everyone else’s? Hopefully you already have the answers to these questions in your head, but we (your public relations firm) are there to help you get those answers out there in ways that consumers, analysts and media will see them, care to give you the time of day and hopefully want to buy your stuff.
One of the best ways to do this is by being a “content machine.” Contributing meaningful, thought-provoking and intelligent content to the community proves that you are an expert in your field, that you are on top of (or ahead of) trends, and that you have a heartbeat. There is no shortage of outlets to contribute to no matter what industry you are in, and many editors are eager to review and publish your ideas. In fact, they much rather you write for them than they write for you. It should be emphasized that while shameless plugs of your product or service in a contributed piece is sometimes allowed, it should actually be viewed as an opportunity to be a thought leader, a luminary. Content can drive people to your product landing page because they have seen “Company XYZ” mentioned so many times in your “About the Author” section that they want to learn more based simply on your expertise and relevance. In short, shameless plugs drive people away because it gives a sense you are contributing simply as a marketing ploy and not out of the goodness of your heart. I know it’s crazy, but people are really into that whole “doing it for the right reasons” thing. We see enough commercials and ads on our screens throughout the day, we don’t want to read an entire article that’s an ad in disguise, too.
This brings me to social media. I saw your eyes roll just now. Trust me – before I started doing social media for business I too thought it was all just a platform full of trolls, a place where people shouted their unimportant opinions about life and politics into the void, and where those who disgustingly needed the attention and approval of strangers got it. Those perceptions aren’t entirely wrong, but there is a whole other side to social, especially from a business perspective. The first thing to realize is that social media is most likely not driving your business. You probably will not attribute a Tweet to your recent spike in sales. Thank your marketing, sales and product development teams for that.
What social media is going to do is three things: show that you are alive (literally), allow you to engage with your community, and to ensure any company or product updates are top of mind. To my first point about social proving you are alive – think about if Microsoft or Apple one day decided to stop Tweeting or posting on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. In their case, millions of people would wonder what is going on. Are they still in business? Have they stopped creating new products? Social media is your heartbeat, the way the public knows you are alive and well, and that you still have something to say, share or sell. Next, social media allows you to engage with the community. Why do it? Believe it or not, a social page that is nothing but you just talking about you isn’t appealing. Mix it up by sharing an article relevant to your industry, retweet or share a post from an analyst, prominent thought leader or publication, or post an appropriate meme or GIF just for fun. This will help increase not just followers, but engaged followers who visit your page regularly. Finally, social media is another (free) outlet to share what’s new with your company, including product announcements and any other major changes or updates. It’s a way to reach thousands of people at once and to ensure consumers and competitors are aware of what you have to offer. Of course, you can maximize social by taking the “free” out of it and implement a paid social campaign to increase followers, engagement, link clicks and more.
So, what’s the point? PR is with it. It’s cool. It’s creative. It’s innovative. It’s about finding new and better ways to set your company apart from the herd. It’s also everything you think it’s not – digital marketing, influencer media, content marketing, etc. PR is either taking over, or you’re in denial.