In the early days of my PR career, I remember standing in the mailroom with a stack of a hundred or so cover letters sending out blast faxes to newsrooms as our press releases crossed BusinessWire. That same time period saw me making late-night runs to Logan Airport where the very last FedEx pick-up happened around midnight as I rushed to get the five boxes of press kits we’d been stuffing that evening to Las Vegas in time for the opening of NetWorld + Interop the next day. Inevitably, we’d outsource the press kits, receive them in the late afternoon and discover all too late that a page was missing, so we’d take them all apart and redo them ourselves.
I can’t remember the last physical press kit I’ve seen or the last fax I’ve sent to a reporter. Today, our addiction to email and social networks has fundamentally changed the way in which PR professionals connect with reporters. We used to call pitching “smiling and dialing” when I was just out of college, but caller ID put a quick end to stalker style PR. And that is a good thing. It means that relationships, research and quality content matter now, more than ever.
While many can argue the inherent lack of wisdom in 140 characters, the need to cut through that din with thoughtful, compelling and differentiated points of view makes public relations a more exciting place to be. We have to be more creative and know our facts like never before. So without further ado, following is my list of the six ways in which I believe PR has changed for the better:
- Blast emails are going the way of blast faxes. No one likes any kind of bulk mail. They never have. I remember building long lists of reporters’ email addresses so we could send out our press releases when they crossed the wire. Inevitably, the mail merge wouldn’t work and Jane received a message that began with “Hello Frank.” Thankfully, this is (almost) a thing of the past. We don’t allow blast emails at InkHouse. They don’t work. Personal emails related to a reporter’s area of interest have always been the best route and today, it’s the only route.
- Quality content matters. We used to struggle for the press to tell our clients’ stories in the words we’d like them to use. Today, the opportunity for quality content is practically endless. Companies have a vast opportunity to seed, syndicate and curate their own points of view and position themselves as the thought leaders they are. However, the only way to do this is to have something interesting to say that is truly differentiated. It’s not enough to agree with your peers.
- New channels. In between press releases, we used to rely on trend stories, customer case studies, speaking engagements and awards to maintain momentum and buzz for our clients. These tools are still important, but social media and blogging open up new channels every day. There might be a community just for cloud-based customer service that is eager for content. You may have a blog post on mobile travel technology for executives that Forbes wants to publish. Or maybe your point of view on the Groupon IPO is so unique that you are lighting up Twitter and the LinkedIn Groups about daily deal sites. Opportunities are out there, and they can drive real engagement, conversations and even traffic. Good PR people know how to find them, and how to engage in them.
- Relationships matter more. Media relations has always been about relationships. I have always believed that PR professionals should treat journalists as clients – we should help source information and experts even when it does not benefit our own companies or our clients. Social media has made relationships easier, which is the good news. However, you have to participate to be in those conversations. Yes, Twitter does matter for PR professionals! It’s a different kind of relationship, but suddenly, PR people have instant access to real-time information about reporters’ stories, opinions and deadlines. If we pay attention, there are volumes of useful information. The trick is organizing the onslaught into something easily perusable – I highly recommend Twitter lists organized into Tweetdeck columns!
- PR drives SEO. It's no secret that reporters aren’t using the wire services as news sources. In a recent conversation, Jon Swartz of USA Today said that he hasn’t looked at BusinessWire or PR Newswire in more than five years. However, the wires do provide an important source of SEO juice. Of course, this assumes that you are maximizing your keywords terms in your press releases, but if you are, you can do your company or client a great favor and drive some traffic.
- We can measure results! I remember the days when we provided reports on circulations, which we multiplied by 2.5 to get impressions. We were mirroring advertising measurement models, and we knew that it wasn’t an appropriate comparison back then, but it was all we had. Today, there are lots of ways to measure PR success. Klout scores, Technorati Authority rankings, engagement through social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), name your favorite new social measurement tool. My favorite tool is Google Analytics and its handy annotation feature. We can show how PR achievements – press clips, blog posts, conferences, keynotes, Twitter chats, you name it – drive traffic. We can also see which PR activities are driving traffic through the top referral sites.