“Today’s PR firms are sitting ducks in the way of tomorrow’s social media freight train. They will join the extinct species of dinosaurs right about the same time as newspapers and most print magazines,” proclaimed Fuat Kircaali, Founder and CEO of SYS-CON media, in his much-riled piece, ‘Is the PR business extinct? Yes‘. He did add later in the same post that, “companies with the largest number of professional bloggers will win“.
With all this talk of the death of PR as we know it, given the rapid strides made by social media and how brands are taking PR into their own hands (very tool-centric approach, of course!), the truth is quite the opposite. The outsourced PR function actually has an opportunity to be the client now!
Social media has no doubt given PR the opportunity to do things better, all over again – personalize every single outreach, not just to journalists, but to any kind of content creator; do your homework before an outreach; be relevant in every communication and so on. But, what happens at the end of it? The client is the one who finally speaks to the journalist/ blogger and gets quoted – PR merely builds the bridges in between and makes sure both parties are benefited mutually.
PR has always been an intermediary between clients and media; traditional media in case of PR 1.0 and social media in PR 2.0. But now, with PR agencies activating and managing social media outlets of communication on behalf of clients, do you sense the evolution in roles?
The PR team usually gets client briefs on a frequent/ periodic basis on business plans and updates, products, internal developments and so on. With that knowledge, PR is almost an internal function for many companies, though there’s a strong agency – vendor line separating that thought. But, with all this information, isn’t the PR function appropriate to activate, say a Twitter profile for a client?
Clients continue to grapple with time – one of the reasons why PR is outsourced. But more than time, clients pay for the expertise/ relationships that PR professionals have built/ cultivated. If a PR professional is also a well-known blogger, he/ she is quite well equipped to deal with people who create content via blogs/ tweets/ videos/ photos, on behalf of the client.
Now, when a PR professional is handling, for instance, a twitter profile of a client, he/ she assumes the role of the client, uses his/ her knowledge of the client and interacts with the general public, he/ she becomes THE client! This is very, very different from a PR professional pitching a story angle to a journalist AS a PR professional. In the former, he/ she is merely speaking for the client, with his/ her identity intact, but in the latter, he/ she becomes the client.
Many clients continue to tweet through a person within the organization or hire an informed vendor to tweet on their behalf – the latter is particularly true for celebrities. Ghosting is here to stay – face it! Not many people are still ready for the 24X7 assault of information flow that is twitter. Or the multitude of connections made possible by LinkedIn or Facebook. The only thing a client can ensure is that such ghosting is given to a person/ agency that knows the personality and business of the client really well.
So the opportunity for PR, with the advent of social media, is two-pronged,
1. Become an influencer yourself. Be a blogger. A tweeter. A facebooker. Be known for the kind of topics you create content for. In short, be known as a blogger (for instance) and not as a ‘PR-guy-blogging-to-make-connections-for-clients’. The former is long term, while the latter is a half-hearted effort that just will not work in the long run.
2. Evolve from merely talking for the client, to being THE client! For instance, a twitter profile for a client is as valid a communication outlet as a CEO speaking to the media. In both, information is passed from the company, to the outside world – just the spokesperson, tools and the weightage of content are different. If you know your client really well – which is a must, given the close interaction between the PR function and clients – you now have the opportunity to be THE client as well. You can adopt the client’s personality and speak on their behalf, with or without communicating the specificity of your role, based on the client’s comfort. In any case, while a simple twitter profile management may not mandate explicit communication to all followers that you are the PR agency as long as the communication and content is relevant/ appropriate, any kind of interaction would naturally need that clarity. And, if the past communication on both roles has been honest (to the PR role and as a client, respectively), the PR professional only stands to gain respect for dealing with dual roles within the boundaries set by each.
The result? You actually become indispensable to the client – imagine getting another person to handle the kind of conversations and relationships you were managing, without jeopardizing either! If you’re a smart PR professional, you’d add enough nuggets from your personality (within relevance to the client, of course – this need not be content-specific, but could be attitude-specific…sense of humor…way of dealing with negative reactions etc.) and create a successful online persona for the client. That is something many clients would continue paying for and dare not stop!
Photo courtesy: curreyuk via Flickr