Does PR need media relations?

Filed as Features on February 16, 2007 4:00 pm

by Ed Lee

In my last posting, about the “New” News Release, I alluded to a sea-change in the job descriptions of the flackus desperandi (PR professional). In the past PR was predominantly “media relations” based – sending spam and harassing journalists.

Sure there was some internal communications thrown in, communicating on behalf of the government) communicating to the government (lobbying), investor relations for the financial specialists and physician communication from the healthcare group.

But underneath a raft of very high-level strategic counsel, media relations essentially underpins the business in the same way that media buying underpins the advertising industry.

But social media has changed that on its head.

More “targets”

Firstly, blogging means that the media landscape has exploded. Instead of having a media list of 50-75 journalists to send news releases and “pitches” to; there are now 100s, if not 1000s of people who write about our clients, their brands, their competitors and their industry.

One posting about how a bic pen can pick a bicycle lock can decimate your stock price so if your PR agency doesn’t pick it up as it happens, you’d be well within your rights to can them.

On the flip-side, sending 100 bloggers a bottle of wine can send your winery from a small piece of shelf space to a global microbrand.

The blogging community, especially the community around the brands we represent, is extremely important. The mainstream media is constantly trawling blogs for story ideas. Blogs like Techcrunch are breaking big stories before publications like the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal. All this means the PRs will be judged on the quality of their OPML files, as well as the quality of their business card filled Filofax.

Direct contact with the audience

The second way social media has changed PR is that the public relations industry no longer depends on the media to communicate with their clients’ audiences.

That’s huge.

Social media has nullified the cornerstone of PR, media relations. The old process was to write a news release and get it approved; media train a spokesperson, pitch the media; suffer the pain of rejection and the elation of an actual interview, organize the logistics around the interview, confirm the interview and then accompany your spokesperson to the interview before waiting with baited breath for the article to appear.

Now you can sit a charismatic executive down in front of a WordPress interface or podcasting rig and self-publish all the coverage you want. I’m simplifying things somewhat but that’s the sort of change we’re looking at – here’s a deeper look at getting a podcast started.

The future

However it’s not all doom and gloom for the traditional media. Many corporations, and PR agencies, have been slow to embrace the social media phenomenon. RSS use hasn’t taken off with the launch of IE7 the way people predicted. People are still wary of blogs and very few listen to podcasts.

Today’s PR needs to be a hybrid of media relations tactician, social media doctor (because their fingers are on the pulse…) and brand strategist all rolled into one. That’s not likely to change for a while.

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