Social media is changing the role of PR in many organisations — but perhaps it just highlights how many companies have missed out on the full extent of the public relations role.
One function of PR is to encourage journalists to provide exposure for your company and products — a bit like unpaid advertising, but with the impartiality of word-of-mouth referrals. Peter Mills, author of Invisible Ink, says this isn’t that hard when you consider that journalists are always looking for new ideas and content.
Of course, it gets hard when you are trying to find something new to say about a product that might change once a year. So how do you keep your profile in the media?
Craig Badings says the secret is to establish yourself as a thought-leader for your business category — so the media see you as a reliable spokesperson who can comment on a myriad of issues related to your industry.
That’s fine, but can’t it backfire? Journalists are always hungry for a bit of dirt, so aren’t you dicing with death every time you talk to one of them. Not really, says Andrew Kirk from Hill and Knowton, you just need to be trained in the art of communication. But beware of old-school media training that teaches you how to ignore questions and respond with a pre-prepared monologue. Journalists aren’t stupid (generally) and that sort of approach can turn ugly, quickly.
Of course the role of PR is changing with the rapidly shifting landscape of the media, although Professor James Grunig from the University of Maryland reckons it’s not changing that much. He says PR is more about listening to customers and new media provides many more ways to track attitudes about your business and category. Listening and adapting is far more important than trying to influence attitudes through messaging. In fact, Professor Grunig says anyone who believes they can do that is kidding themselves.
Grunig’s views make PR a far more strategic function within a business. People are talking about you right now, somewhere in the webosphere. What are you doing about it? Doing nothing is not an option — you have to listen and influence the rest of your company to adapt. That’s a very different role for a PR manager than spending all day writing press releases and talking to journalists.
It’s likely PR will play a deeper role in your business in the future.