Public Relations: A Fading Term?

As I had time to unwind over the last few days due to the holiday season, I have been spending a significant amount of time contemplating the future of public relations agencies.  While many of the large, highly-identifiable agencies still brand themselves as public relations experts (i.e. Edelman, Waggener-Edstrom, Fleishman-Hillard, etc.), I do not think the term “public relations” fully encompasses everything that agencies specialize in nowadays.

The media landscape is vastly changing. The days where public relations professionals woke up to scan hard copy newspapers for relevant news are long gone. The current 24-hour news cycle has completely changed the media. 

As a result, public relations professionals must have an in-depth understanding of new media, especially social media.  The increasing popularity of social media has provided consumers and key publics with a strong voice. Therefore, we tend to have a great deal opinion in our news today. One small tweet or Facebook post has the potential to be viewed by millions of people.  

Journalists are no longer the only people public relations professionals must foster relationships with. Anyone can make news today.

Thus, I believe the term integrated marketing communications should be used to describe agencies. Integrated marketing communications is identified as the mix of advertising, public relations, promotion, branding and direct marketing to effectively communicate with the target audiences. 

In order for agency professionals to successfully communicate their messages to the identified audience, there must be a balanced mix of various strategies.  In today’s busy media environment, we are constantly competing for our audience’s attention.  Therefore, we can no longer rely solely on public relations to generate a significant buzz. 

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“Find a Mentor!”

“Find a mentor!”  These three little words have been the absolute best advice I have received since starting my full-time position at a public relations agency. Working at an agency with over 250 employees can be overwhelming at times – especially when you are at the “bottom of the totem pole” so to speak.

When I first began my job, I oftentimes felt lost in the shuffle.  I was not sure how I should be allocating my time, exactly who I should be reporting to and what was expected of me.  

However, since finding a “ non-designated” mentor, I have been able to find quick, easy answers to all of my questions.  Additionally, my mentor has been able to pick up on my strengths and interests. Therefore, I am noticing that the nature of work I am being assigned aligns closely with my personal interests.

In the public relations field (especially at large agencies), I believe it is necessary for junior-level employees to find internal advocates.   In my opinion, the best way to do this is to simply approach a well-respected staff member and ask them to serve as your in-house mentor and provide you with the necessary guidance to succeed and grow organically. Typically, these advocates are senior-level employees who will be in your corner.  Once you have demonstrated responsibility and the desire to succeed, your advocates will work to ensure that you are working on projects that are of interest to you, managing your time effectively and gaining the respect of your colleagues. 

Be Prepared for Crises!

As we all know, the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has sparked a national debate on the issue of gun control.  Recently, Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods having received robust media coverage over their decisions on whether or not they would continue to sell hand guns and rifles at their stores.

This week, Wal-Mart announced that it would continue to sell guns rifles and rifles like the one used at Sandy Hook.  In contrast, Dick’s suspended sales of similar guns at its stores.

After reading the articles focused on Wal-Mart and Dick’s, I could not help but think about the public relations implications of tragedies and crises. Typically, when a tragedy of this caliber occurs, it involves various parties.  I am sure that when Wal-Mart and Dick’s heard of the Sandy Hook shooting, they had no idea that they would be associated with the story.

Therefore, I believe it is best to take the “Murphy’s Law” approach to public relations.  In other words, we should always anticipate that if something can go wrong, it will. Below are a few steps to ensure that you are accurately prepared for tragedies and crises in the media:

  • Develop a media list with key journalists. By proactively identifying important journalists, you will be able to quickly push your message out during a crisis. 
  • Have a list of relevant colleagues readily available at all times.  Crises can occur at any time. A comprehensive contact list will allow you to reach your colleagues after office hours.
  • Build your media monitoring skills. Be prepared to  monitor the media to pick up any relevant mentions. Any developments will be relevant news! 

Time Management

As time progresses, I am noticing that my ability to effectively manage time is greatly improving.  In agency life, you quickly have to learn how to move from one task to the next. 

Currently, I have a handful of large clients. To effectively manage my time, I walk in the office each day with the assumption that each of my clients may need some of my time. By doing this, I can proactively ensure that I do not become buried in a pile of work.

A few time management tools that I find to be helpful are: 

  • “Guesstimate” – Try to make an accurate prediction of how long each task is going to take. This will allow you to abide by a set schedule.
  • WRITE out a list – The gratification I get from crossing tasks off my lists is incredible! It allows you to feel accomplished and motivated throughout the day.
  • “Preview Pane” – Viewing the short preview  that pops up from Microsoft Outlook when you receive an email will prevent you from wasting valuable time reading irrelevant emails throughout the day. 

Research and Public Relations

This evening, I came across a very interesting article from PRWeek. The article draws attention to the Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards’ new microsite seeking feedback on proposed measurement and research guidelines.

The coalition plans to review feedback from the public before creating industry standards for research methods and tactics.

The guidelines will address five main areas: traditional media analysis; social media measurement; return on investment; ethics in measurement and evaluation; and the communications lifecycle. According to the article, the coalition created teams to draft standards addressing each area.

In my opinion, the ultimate success of public relations programs and campaigns rests on research. We must ensure that our messages are based on sound, factual evidence.  Therefore, I applaud the Center for Public Relations Research Standards for attempting to create the “official” framework for how research should be conducted and implemented into our communications plans.

It is extremely beneficial that the collation is seeking input from the public. An in-depth understanding of how public relations works depends on one’s amount of real world experience.  Thus, I hope that a variety of industry experts will provide their input to help produce applicable guidelines that can be used throughout the industry.

Budgeting: Spend Wisely; Be Smart

As 2013 is inching closer by the hour, I am noticing the constant repetition of one very important word in the public relations industry: BUDGET.   Currently, our clients are preparing for the upcoming year and it is necessary that a defined budget is set.  

Coming into a public relations agency at a very junior level, I never thought that I would have to be conscious of a budget.  To me, it was something that only senior and executive level staff worked with. However, every employee needs to fully aware of budget limitations. Otherwise, we may end up billing our clients for work that they simply cannot pay for.

Most importantly, it is necessary to make sure that you are strategic about how you are spending your clients’ money.  While it is great to be proactive and anticipate problems/issues that may arise, we want to make sure we are giving them the biggest “bang for their buck” for the work they do ask us to deliver. 

Sundays: Planning Ahead

After my first few months working in public relations, I realized how important it is to adequately prepare for the week.  Every Sunday, I block off a few hours of my day to make sure that I am organized for the days ahead.  I like to ensure that I am ahead of the game each Monday!

I thoroughly believe that organization is the key to success to in public relations. Therefore, it is crucial to start each week out on the right foot.

Since the vast majority of the work I do is media related,  I always make sure I  have time to catch up on client-related news that happened over the weekend. While I usually pay attention to the Google alerts that come into my Blackberry over the weekend, I always like to be sure that I am not dropping the ball by missing important news.  I have found that this makes pulling together Monday’s clips and media report much easier!

Most importantly, I always try to make a conscious effort to nail down any client deliverables that I may have due on Monday. In agency life, Mondays typically tend to be crazy.  I oftentimes notice myself being pulled in about 10 different directions.  Thus, I find it helpful to work ahead of Monday deadlines to ensure that an urgent task and/or client crisis does not interfere with me finishing important deliverables on time.