Ah, PR. I’ll readily admit it: I’m only barely a professional PR practitioner. Six months ago I was a student, and six months from now I can only hope to still be employed. I’m just getting my feet wet and am myself trying to figure out what in the world PR is and is not, so bear with me.
The field I call home (or more appropriately, work) is one that requires a few words of explanation. My friend and co-writer of this column Ed Lee has already taken to introducing you to public relations in his column entitled “PR 101“, which just became required reading if you have any interest in this column. Ed and I have known each other in RL (real life for all you Second Lifers) for about 4 months, which adds up to about 20 years online.
So who am I? I’m Chris Clarke, and I plan to spend a few minutes every second week talking about public relations and social media.
A little about me and what makes me qualified to write for the Blog Herald: For the past six months, I have been employed at Canada’s most social-media friendly PR firm, Thornley Fallis Communications. I was hired soon after my post-graduate PR studies ended, thanks to my enthusiasm online in the blogosphere and the launch of my own PR blog. The next thing I knew I was knee-deep in the fast-paced, slowly-evolving world of PR two weeks after my 23rd birthday.
And yes, I said slowly-evolving. PR has traditionally been a “press”-ing field: press releases, press kits, press releases, press conferences, and more press releases. Of course, that’s all about to change. As a reader of the Blog Herald, you are likely a classy individual on the up-and-up when it comes to this thing we like to call “social media“. Traditionally, PR practitioners have used the mass media to convey their clients’ messages. The problem with using the mass media today is that only a fraction of a percent of that mass audience is going to have even the slightest interest in your message (and the ones we really want to reach are probably not even participating in that media anyway). Thank goodness for social media.
Social media allows PR professionals to connect with our clients’ audience on an individual basis. Sure, it’s slow to catch on among more traditional clients, but those who “get it” don’t hesitate. Instead of putting a press release about an innovation in shipping (which we recently did for our client Shipping Pal) to a national daily newspaper, we can put it in the hands of those who we think would be interested in it online – blogs, podcasts, message boards, or whatever and wherever else (which we also did for Shipping Pal). We’ll encourage our client to have an online presence (Shipping Pal completely agreed and launched their own blog). If we’ve done our job properly, people will talk about it. They’ll try it. They’ll give our client feedback. If they like it, they’ll tell others. If they don’t like it, we make sure our client will hear about it and look to consider correcting what customers don’t like, which would probably make the person who suggested the change tell others about how he helped make a company better. It might even go viral and have a lot of people talking about it within hours. Now, take a moment to imagine mass media trying to do that and try to refrain from laughing.
For good measure, here are a few things we don’t do where I work yet take place at other PR firms: creating fake social networking profiles, submitting stories to user-generated news sites like digg for our clients benefit, editing Wikipedia for our clients, paying journalists to cover our clients, paying bloggers to cover our clients, astroturfing (very well explained here), and trying to game Google search, among others.
So that covers my entire knowledge of public relations. Hopefully in the next two weeks I’ll have learned something new to talk about for my next column.