I have recently been in several public relations development meetings with long standing and leading clients across several different industries. We typically discuss market trends, the economy and its effect on their business. Then review the current PR strategy to ensure it is in line with the company's business strategy. As we come to the close of the meeting, I have been asked time and time again, "What is PR 2.0, should we have it, where can we get it, how much does it cost and how soon could start?"
The reason we are being asked these questions is because clients are picking up on a coined phrase that has been moving through the public relations industry for sometime now. DO NOT PANIC! PR professionals have all been in situations where the client has heard some new term and want to know if it needs to be integrated into their PR strategy. Usually they hope this new idea will be some sort of miracle cure so they can reduce spending on advertising, or they hope it will increase their sales, and in some cases they hope it will do both. It is not wrong for clients to ask these questions, as they too want what's best for their overall marketing strategy. They want to gain the highest return on investment, while increasing their company's awareness in their target markets.
To understand PR 2.0 we need to have a clear understanding of public relations. According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the definition of public relations "… is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with the public interest, and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance. " This definition clearly explains the purpose of public relations and despite the principle behind PR has stayed relatively the same for the last 100 years, how we practice the function of PR has changed considerably.
The practice of PR, like most other businesses, has evolved over time. Methods evolve, new business models develop and new technology equips PR professionals with more tools to dissolve information. Whether you're a PR professional or in a business industry, by simply looking back 15 years, you can see that you were probably sending faxes not e-mails, doing research by books not the Internet, waiting for the newspaper or trade publication for your news, and not getting it instantly on your mobile phone.
Technology has equipped us to work quicker, more efficiently and in many cases with greater creativity. Many years ago PR practitioners had to rely heavily upon print media. Then the introduction of the Internet came, providing additional online media outlets, and now we have the recent introduction of social media. Do not think that this evolution has made print media obsolese for your PR campaign. Although it is necessary to investigate and embrace new media, you need to make sure that your client's target audience is doing the same. Case in point, research tells us if you are targeting seniors that are looking for a retirement home, more than likely, they would prefer to read a journalist review in a magazine. But if you are targeting new college enrollments about the latest fashion trends, they are more apt to follow those trends using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.
Web 2.0 and Social Media
PR has traditionally been a push strategy through industrial media such as television, newspapers and magazines. PR professionals send out press releases and pitch stories hiring to have reporters' endorsements about their client's product or service. This practice is done in the hope of promoting a positive response to the client's offering.
PR professionals are now equipped with social media, providing accessible tools that enable anyone with an Internet connection or mobile phone to receive and share information, theby creating a pull strategy. To understand PR 2.0 you also have to have knowledge of social media. Wikipedia defines social media "… as content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies, tools and platforms facilitating the discovery, participation and sharing of content." Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) and consumer-generated media (CGM).
Social media is a result of Web 2.0 technology, where development and design, using programming languages such CSS, ASP and HTML, are used to create easy to use rich content web platforms where people can share content, personal opinions, and discuss various interests.
Francis Ingham, the Assistant Director General of Public Affairs and Business for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) writes, "Social media is an evolving – and frequently contentious – area of PR practice, the profile of which continues to grow. therefore appropriate for the CIPR to use guidance to our Members and the wider community on how social media should be handled. "
Social media consists of, but is not limited to; blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, microbloggins, Wikis and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube.
PitchEngine is a social platform where PR professionals can easily create, host and share visually rich and dynamic social media press releases. In less than a year more than 6,000 brands have created thousands of social media releases on PitchEngine. These brands include companies and organizations like the American Red Cross, Harley-Davidson, Xerox, Dell and Mattel.
PR practitioners create a strategy for social media know it can be daunting and very time consuming. The campaign must be carefully developed, as there is less control of the desired message than with 'traditional' online media, and far less than print media. Many brands have been damaged by trying to implement a half thought out social media campaign. Just remember, with print you may be working with a competent of journalists that provide a review of your client's product or service. When you implement a social media strategy, typically you have removed that handful of journalists and replaced them with the potential of every end user becoming a critic for your client's product or service.
Believe it or not, the term PR 2.0 has been around for about 10 years. Brian Solis of Deirdre Breakenridge started promoting the concept for how PR, multimedia and the web would intersect and create a new breed of PR / Web market.
PR 2.0 uses known web 2.0 practices like search engine optimization, multimedia like video clips and social media outlets like LinkedIn or Facebook. When combined with proven PR practices this can be an additional tactical to directly reach an end user target audience. Essentially, this practice eliminates the influencers, typically the media, who provide third party endorsements of a business's product or service.
Do we need it?
I find it puzzling why so many PR professionals seem to feel it is necessary to change their website or brochure to reflect the latest widget or idea, simply because a client may ask a question like "why do not we have PR 2.0." PR 2.0 is one more tactical for PR agencies to put into their PR tool box. The tactic should be used in an overall PR strategy, not as a replacement for traditional PR practices. Information on PR tactics are available on a plethora of websites and most people can usually rattle off quite a few; press releases, articles, case studies, white papers, websites and blogs to name a few. Many PR professionals can perform these tactics very well; however, what good are tactics if the proper strategy is not applied?
Make sure the proper form of media is selected for your client's target audience. The simple fact of the matter is that PR agencies should be providing their clients with a complete strategic integrated campaign that is reviewed regularly. Before implementing any PR tactics, a PR agency must identify their client's business strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They need to research their client's market, provide a situation analysis, identify the necessary target audience (s), provide a detailed competitor analysis – only then can the PR agency identify the business's communication challenge. Once this is done, the agency can create the proper communications objectives and agree upon PR strategy with metrics for measurement. More times than not, this strategy will also need to incorporate other elements such as advertising, marketing and web centric activities. Careful consideration will need to be given as to what media outlets should be used; print, online, social or a combination. Never forget your target audience. Just because a new tool exists that may be better and faster, it may not be right for the job.
The principle purpose of PR has changed little, but how we use the tools and tactics that are available to us through the development of technology, coupled with a clearly developed strategy, is what differentiates the success of one PR agency from another.