So you’re all up to speed on the new rules of engagement for marketing and public relations and how important it is to abandon control of the ‘message’ and engage with your various audiences (the people formerly categorized as ‘stakeholders’ although this term is now out of favour as well, I’m not quite sure why) and the importance of ‘transparency’ and the fact that you’d better get on the social media bandwagon because at the rate things are going, there won’t be many mainstream media outlets left to whom you can tell your corporate story.
That static Web 1.0 web site you spent so much money on two or three years ago is sneered at and in order to maintain your search engine rankings you feel under increasing pressure to add a blog and feed it with content. Then you have to master Twitter to promote your blog and no one will read your media release unless it’s a social media release which means you’ve got to start shooting amateur video you can post on YouTube and you haven’t mastered Facebook and now you’re being told you need to create a Facebook group page and instead of ever being done with this whole business of communicating so you can get on with growing and running your business, you end up feeling like you’re even farther behind than when you started.
There has been a wave of mania about social media and, in particular, Twitter. These have a place in an overall digital public relations plan. But let’s all get our basic building blocks in order first, the usability and optimisation of our websites, the effectiveness of our email marketing campaigns and a blog integrated into our website and using a relevant set of keywords.
Public relations is a process, and this is, perhaps, the single most misunderstood aspect of the profession. The big launch event that generates coverage and begins the buzz is a beginning. It’s not the goal and it’s not the endpoint. No matter how brilliant you are or how revolutionary your product, establishing yourself as an industry expert or your product or service as the market leader is not something that happens overnight. Even the ‘instant sensations’ like Susan Boyle have 1. spent years – often decades – studying their craft and 2. aren’t necessarily the most sustainable – or optimal – strategies. If you’re satisfied with 15 minutes of fame, fine. If you want to be a household word for a decade or more, you might want to pace yourself a bit.
Instead of dreaming of instant riches as a result of ‘going viral’ on the internet – which is probably about as likely as learning to read today and delving immediately into the works of Roland Barthes the next – organizations need to invest in branding, marketing, and public relations strategies that move at a pace with which they’re comfortable and which are achievable. For new businesses in particular, the challenges of the start-up phase are daunting – and that includes finding the right people to hire as your business grows and ensuring you don’t end up in a cash flow crunch that means you’ve become a victim of your own success.
How will this drive a public relations renaissance? Sooner or later, when social media-only efforts fail to produce the desired results because they’re not part of a larger strategy that includes all stakeholders – including those who don’t want to participate in social media, those who want and need more than a 140-character Tweet, those who prefer the ‘personal touch’ (even if it’s only excellent customer service via telephone) – organizations are going to have to go back to square one, create content that’s effective, and develop communications strategies that do what communications strategies were always meant to do: reach everyone who needs and wants to be reached in the way they choose to ‘engage.’
This can mean more work rather than less. It can also lead to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume and pace of online communications and the ever-shifting ‘advice’ from the latest self-styled social media guru. Social media-savvy public relations consultants can help you allocate and focus your resources – both your communications spend and your time. Think of us as communications organizers rather than people to whom you’ve outsourced your conversations and it will all seem a little less overwhelming. And remember the first question to be answered in the communications planning process is, “Where are we now?” Also remember that while there have really been no good interviews that ever resulted from a mere recitation of key messages, the more interviews you do the better you’ll get at them. But without putting in the time and effort to learn mainstream and social media culture from folks who study it, you’re a lot more likely to drown from a dive into the deep end than you would be if you paddled in the shallows and learned how to float first with someone hanging onto your bathing suit, ready to pluck you out of the water if you start to drown.