The digital age has brought communication at our finger tips. The crazy part is that much of this communication is obligatory and transient. While the online world is allowing us an exponential increase in awareness, information and the ability to reach out to people, it also results in much of this being vapid and unfulfilling.
In such an atmosphere, Public Relations as a field has also changed with the times, with traditional PR agencies dabbling into building teams that manage social media presence and complete with digital agencies. That said at the heart of it, this industry is supremely human in nature. The very essence of PR today is to position a non-living entity like a brand and make it live, breathe and speak but more so, manage reputation. If you are wondering whether PR teams are finally realizing that it’s not just relation building but a lot of branding, hold your horses!
Have often heard that PR is changing. But in fact, in a true sense, it is the people who are managing PR that have changed. Understanding that the new age of professionals are people who prefer to connect on WhatsApp [clients and agencies alike] than go for a media round is a fact that many veterans are still coming to terms with. The fact that journalists are no longer the top of the pyramid and that ‘paid media’ is but a part of the process is something that gets us being compared with other verticals.
If you look at the career graph of leading Corporate Communications professionals, a lot of them either started at PR agencies or as journalists. A very small % actually started off or have been in business roles. As one moved up the ladder and saw one fighting for a voice at the table, it dawned upon many that PR and communications was never really taken seriously unless there is/was a crisis. The core skill in the early ages was mostly, a lot of communication drafting and learning to respect confidentiality but today, it’s a lot more. It’s not just what is manifested externally by PR professionals, though, that possesses this people element.
The most important step that all experienced and successful PR experts cite is the relationship they create with journalists and media professionals. This is a connection that needs to be nurtured and sustained, and there’s no short cut to it. Veterans will ask you to follow your contact lists, read and share their work, send them helpful, relevant links and information that you find to assure them that you are genuinely interested in their work and are attempting to contribute. While this can happen digitally today [because who has the time?] what gets lost is the human element – the deeper connect, the positive and mutually beneficial relationship that goes beyond work.
How many of us in PR are actually focused on meeting monthly coverage deadlines and targets? Like a sword hanging on your neck that leads one to pushing journalists/media. At the end of the day, our clients are customers, reaching out to you for your insight and expertise to accomplish a task that they possibly cannot carry out on their own. This means that their thorough knowledge and understanding of their own brand is superlative and the major gap lies in their ability to effectively reach out to people. This takes time. But we rarely go back and explain this. The time aspect of it that is. And while clients may not know everything we do, respecting the depth of their knowledge, and getting a good idea of the brand’s ideology, values and current voice is not something that can we ignored. If the idea is to make the brand appear human and build dialogue, as professionals, we also need to push our clients to take a leap of faith. To empower our clients to achieve this, let’s restructure our own communication. Statements like ‘the media works this way’ or that ‘newsworthy inputs are not provided’ can no longer be justified. As I’ve learnt from my mentor, asking the right questions gets you the right answers and therein lies the opportunity. Yes, you are advising them, planning for them, and probably also executing for them, but remember that ultimately, it’s all for the brand and not the person holding the position at that brand.
Let these be conversation starters. In your next team meeting or PR meetup, ask yourself, do we need a mindset makeover or not?