PR Means Public Relations, Not Press Release

Filed as Features on December 29, 2006 11:00 am

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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.

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  1. Introducing Chris Clarke! at The Blog HeraldDecember 29, 2006 at 12:50 pm
  2. By Adam Torkildson posted on December 29, 2006 at 1:29 pm
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    Hey Chris,
    you sound like you are just about in my position. However, I live in Utah, and am going to be graduating next semester. I am 23(sorry if this looks like I’m making a pass at you, I am hetero, just had our first baby etc…) and have some offers from people in the PR industry here who are interested in offering their clients social media exposure. I am the webmaster for the local PRSA chapter, http://uvprsa.org and I built the site using WordPress, and have been blogging since March of 2006. I am interested to know what you think about using social sites like youtube and metacafe for exposure, like KTec did with their “Will it blend” campaign? The CEO of KTEC is actually living 2 miles from my home, and is speaking at our next PRSA workshop. I have a few videos up on youtube, google video, metacafe, and broadcaster.com, all trying to promote my PR firm.

  3. By Chris Clarke posted on December 29, 2006 at 1:39 pm
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    Thanks Arry, I’m about to check that link out now!

    Adam, thanks for the comment. I haven’t heard of KTec’s campaign (or KTec, for that matter) but online communities are where PR people should go next. We’ve pitched ourselves into oblivion to the media. Why not go straight to the audience we’re trying to reach? And good move on moving the uvprsa chapter website to a blog – it’s the simplest content management system out there, and it gives members the opportunity to interact with the site’s material. What could be better?

  4. By Simon - What's Social Networking? posted on December 30, 2006 at 12:33 am
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    Cool stuff guys – The Internet and Internet marketing is all about PR

  5. By Francis Wooby posted on December 31, 2006 at 7:24 am
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    Great stuff, Chris! I’m looking forward to reading more.

  6. By Darren posted on January 3, 2007 at 3:37 pm
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    Chris,

    Nice work. Enjoyed your thoughts. I was interested in what you might be thinking about the latest “flog” incident with Sony and Zipatoni the other day (like how I know about some of this lingo now.. ;) ? ) Anyway, I agree that social media represents a great way to reach our audiences, but I’m concerned about these incidents. I know people who feel blogs are untrustworthy because you “never know who is behind the mask”. So…with these stories in local dailies, and an apparent learning curve associated with the blogosphere (as you have called it)…what chance do we have right now? Reaching new audiences appears bleak when many people (in my opinion) do not trust, and are also scared of, social media. Will time heal these problems or create new ones? I trust your wisdom… :)

  7. By Chris Clarke posted on January 4, 2007 at 1:03 pm
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    You’re tough, Mr. Darren.

    I think it’s going to take time. Bloggers can’t expect the population en masse to either start reading blogs or start trusting them. Some of us are already avid readers of blogs, but we’re a fraction of a fraction. It’s really early days still.

    Remember that night at the bar for Third Tuesday when I introduced you to Shel Holtz? Shel has an interesting perspective on trust: Shel trusts people he knows in real life, like friends or family. Online, it’s no different. Trust is built through relationships. I trust Shel as a blogger because I’ve taken time to read him and through reading him I’ve come to trust him.

    If you were to meet someone on the street today and they offered you the chance to make a lot of money fast, would you trust them? Of course not! But if a close friend or relative were to tell you the same thing, you would probably trust them, even if they were proposing something shady. I hope this clears up the trust issue.

    As for the latest Sony incident, it’s just another one in a long line of mistakes Sony made in 2006. I still bought their headphones on boxing day, mind you.

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