The importance of PR in the new Web

Filed as Features on January 19, 2007 1:53 pm

by Ed Lee

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Last week Chris had a great discussion over the slow uptake of social media by PRs. This week I’ll put forward some reasons why the new Internet should interest the PR community and, reciprocally, why PR should be embraced by the digital natives. That’s anyone involved in social media, or as Time would put it: You.

It’s not hard to predict where my loyalties lie. I see advertising as intrusive while PR seeks to strike up conversation. Advertising buys loyalty; PR earns it. Advertising screams at you a few meters from your face; PR whispers in your ear. Advertising tries to bulldoze you into submission; PR gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction.

And because PR is a subtler discipline, it’s had to take the back seat. Smaller budgets and a lack of tangible ROI to report haven’t helped either. But now marketing is about forming relationships, bonds, community. To continue the automotive analogy, because we seek to form conversations between clients and their customers, PR is now in the driving seat.

Previously, PR was about making the media happy. Giving them interesting compelling stories to write about. Exclusive interviews. Embargoed news. Pre-released products. Great spokespeople. And it works, it still works.

The only problem is the media only has an infinite amount of space with scores of companies clamouring for attention. The average journalist is hounded (figuratively, not literally) by PR people wanting them to write about their clients. There simply isn’t enough room at the inn anymore.

But now “the media” means everyone with a blog. Anyone with a free Blogger or WordPress account can be having a conversation relevant to one of my company’s clients and it’s my job to know about it. To monitor it, to report it and if appropriate, to get involved by offering more information and furthering the conversation.

And in turn, our clients are turning from Just Another Brand™ to content providers who want to give you info-tainment. Helpful hints, recipes, thoughtful commentary on industry issues or just a place to talk with like minded people about stuff that interests you.

Brands should be aware of the conversation around their industry and, if the talk isn’t about them, they should be getting involved and starting new discussions and eliciting feedback directly from their customers.

By enabling the conversation between our clients and their customers, everyone wins. The end customer gets a better product that they like a whole lot more while our client gets a much improved product and higher sales.

Ed Lee is a Senior Consultant, Internet Communications at iStudio Canada. He blogs on marketing, PR and social media at Blogging Me Blogging You.

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