Public relations practitioners have always connected brands with consumers, but how they do that has drastically changed in recent years. In this PR roundtable, three NYWICI members — Tricia Kenney, managing director of corporate communications at the Kaplan Thaler Group; Alissa Pinck, a PR agency executive; and Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, co-founder and managing director of Digital Brand Architects — talk about how the industry has evolved and what practitioners can do to find a niche in this rapidly changing field.
How has the industry changed since the beginning of your career?
Alissa Pinck: It’s now so much more about 360-degree communications than about media relations. Should companies hire PR agencies, or should they hire marketing agencies or digital agencies or entertainment agencies? There are a lot more people playing in the space, offering to connect brands to consumers.
Kendra Bracken-Ferguson: The field of PR is constantly changing and evolving to match the needs of brands and consumers, as well as to account for new media outlets and channels that continue to emerge. Bloggers, YouTubers and online content publishers have truly forced an expansion in the role of PR practitioners — and increased the channels and outlets that must be included in outreach strategies.
Tricia Kenney: There’s never been a better or more exciting time to be in the field of PR than today. When you think about it, the world’s largest communications outlets are owned by the people: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Today no one can control the news, but as a PR practitioner you have more tools.
How have new media, especially social media, impacted PR?
TK: Because of the digital revolution and social media, you can [in effect] have one-on-one dialogues with lots of people at once. All news people have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. Before, you could never get to a reporter directly without a good preexisting relationship. Now, if you can offer a new angle, you can have a dialogue — a 140-character dialogue if you’re using Twitter.
KBF: While the objective of PR has not changed, the pitch and the assets have changed. Working with bloggers from an editorial perspective requires an understanding of social media in general as well as the time to develop and nurture relationships with them.
AP: You have to be much more prepared for a crisis, as it could go viral in minutes. You need to know all the different vehicles a news person uses — do they write for a newspaper but also blog or tweet? Is the content you are pitching appropriate for all their vehicles?
You have all been very successful in carving out a niche for yourselves. To what do you attribute your success?
AP: One of the reasons I have done well is that I have always had a sense of urgency, which is a huge benefit in PR. And I have always been really well read, so that I can speak somewhat intelligently on many different topics. And I love to write. So many people in PR can’t write, which is a shame because it really hurts them in their careers.
KBF: Staying on top of the trends, [taking advantage of] advances in tools and technologies and adapting to the new media landscape. We have carved a niche in terms of building out our digital PR capabilities and truly understanding the nuances of working with bloggers to establish relationships on behalf of our clients.
TK: I have always treated my clients, their businesses, their projects and their money as if they were my own. I tell the truth at all times. So many people over-promise and under-deliver; I always want to under-promise and over-deliver. That, coupled with not always telling [clients] what they want to hear. I’d like to think that is my hallmark.
What is your advice for someone just starting in this field?
AP: In any industry, you have to ask questions and be willing to take constructive criticism. You also need to raise a red flag when something is going wrong or you are going to miss a deadline, so your boss doesn’t have to take the heat. In PR, it’s all about following the news and reading, reading, reading. Know what is going on in the world across entertainment, politics, sports, media and lifestyle.
TK: The most important thing is to come up with a smart, funny, entertaining story idea or angle for the reporter on the other end. Think before you type, tweet, or pick up the phone, and make sure you have something worthwhile or interesting or entertaining that’s going to get the job done. You only have one shot.
KBF: Learn as much as you can in terms of social media, digital marketing, technologies, platforms, etc. Now PR professionals are pitching editors and bloggers through Twitter as well as through email and, at times, Facebook. There is tremendous opportunity to lead the next evolution of PR. Carpe diem!
Enhance Your Social Media Mastery
By Dorothy Crenshaw
It’s easy to feel pressured by a vague sense that you need to keep up, so start with the basics and define your goals. Do you want to expand your professional network? Attract clients? Make yourself more marketable? Your professional objectives should inform your social media commitment and strategy. Next, consider these tips.
Divide and conquer
Select one or two emerging platforms and do a deep dive for a week. Become part of the community. The experience will be useful even if you decide that LinkedIn discussion groups are more strategic for your goals than, say, Google+ or Pinterest.
Be a content creator
If you blog regularly, you have a natural content hub for sharing on social media platforms. But if not, look for opportunities to guest post on a topic about which you feel passionate or are an expert. Seek out blogs and communities in key areas and become a regular commenter.
Follow top brands and bloggers
If your time is limited (and whose isn’t?), choose 10 innovative and interesting figures or companies and follow them. Consistency can be more valuable than a wide net.
Test new tools
Broaden your familiarity with new monitoring, measurement and analytics tools. Many, like Radian6, offer free trials, and a few hands-on sessions can be worth 10 white papers.
Connect in real life
There’s a tsunami of advice available online, but we often accomplish more through personal interaction. Attend seminars, workshops and conferences (like those that NYWICI offers) that place you in direct contact with thought leaders and others who have new ideas and inspiration to share.
— Dorothy Crenshaw (@dorothycrenshaw) is the CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications.
This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of CONNECT. Photos Maryanne Russell.