Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Circumvent the news media

Many think of PR as MR—i.e., media relations, and by that, they're thinking of relations with the news media. They're thinking of publicity, really. And this is an attitude that existed when I first entered the business in the late ‘90s, and certainly a long time before that. Furthermore, news media relations is but one piece of the public relations puzzle. So why is it that so many think public relations is at once synonymous with and nothing more than the practice of trying to get publicity?

The problem is that the two were functionally one and the same for a long time. Why? Until recently, the prevailing vehicle for PR practitioners to reach their many publics with a message was the news media, the information brokers and middlemen of communication. And, so, the PR industry built an empire around relationships with these information brokers, and to this day this empire holds tremendous cache in the minds of clients who still see the news media through the lens of awe. Think Walter Cronkite. Think "The Tonight Show." You understand now, don't you? These are icons. They command reverence. Clients want to get on these shows. The PR industry has sold itself well.

But these shows don't deserve all your energy (a highly devoted portion of it, just not all). Any business can now reach its target markets directly. It's just not as sexy. Or is it? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Although the ideas of "getting ink" and "shooting b-roll" are sexy and enamor people with the notion of PR, Web 2.0 is in fact sexier to the person who practices public relations. After all, who in this business wouldn't want to circumvent the news media entirely to reach target audiences directly with unfiltered, highly targeted messages? Not only that, but these target audiences are apt to believe your communication just as much as they would if they were to read it in the paper, hear it on the radio, or see it on television.

I saw evidence for this in my own research while in graduate school. And I'm seeing it now, in practice. I'll talk about all that some more next time. For now, suffice it to say that you used to have to rely on the brand name of a traditional news media outlet to carry your client's brand (or your own brand, if you're doing this yourself) across the finish line; in the new environment, you can take the brand of yourself or client, and rely quite a bit on just that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Plaster yourself all over the Web with Web 2.0

I won't burden my readers with too many details of the Sunday morning traffic jam I encountered yesterday. Yes, I just wrote Sunday morning. Let's just say one of the two major thruways to Massachusetts from Central South New Hampshire had transformed into a parking lot at a key intersection of highways south of the state border. I use that term, "parking lot," literally: Cars were parked. The guy in front of me opened his door and walked out into the median to survey the situation. The guy in front of him did likewise. They shook hands. I didn't know they knew each other. Maybe they didn't, but I joined them, and we tailgated.

No, we didn't tailgate. I also just lied about joining them. But you get the point, I did get out of my car, and the standstill did last a good 25 minutes. Fortunately, this wasn't long enough to keep me from arriving in Cambridge, Mass., in time for the day's festivities at the Branding & Promotion Lab, an installment in a series of events that the National Speakers Association has produced this year to present ideas on how professional speakers can, well, brand and promote themselves.

A longtime colleague of mine (note: link includes automatic sound generation) was there to give a presentation on his phenomenal success in regularly attracting major news media hits. I was there to co-present, and took the stage at about 10am to share my thoughts on how professional speakers can post high-quality content online to plaster themselves all over the search engine pages, and how this can, in turn, be a powerful pull-marketing tactic to win business.

Later this week I'll share more on the concept of a direct-to-consumer news release campaign, a simple yet effective approach to public relations online that often achieves these very objectives. I'll also take the 50,000-foot view of news media relations vs. public relations. Yes, they're different, and this fact speaks volumes about just about anyone's PR objectives online.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grab the microphone, or blog?

About a week and a half ago I went to an alumni event at the Boston University College of Communication (COM). Being a graduate of the school and member of its adjunct faculty, I figured I'd better make an appearance, maybe even do some networking. And it wasn't just any COM alumni event, anyway; it was the mother of all COM alumni events, a celebration of 60 years.

"Sixty years of what?" you ask. Sixty years of the world's first graduate degree program in public relations, that's what. You see, COM is the place where that happened, and the main attraction at the event, a spirited debate by a panel of distinguished alumni, quickly justified the reasons why we COM alumni venerate our school with such gusto.

A crowd of nearly 200 gathered to listen to the panel contemplate the event's title: "Progress and Public Relations: A Look at Where We've Been and Where We're Going." The panel's very composition, a coterie of industry luminaries, screamed the depth of COM's longtime influence on the profession of public relations:
  • Harold Burson, founder of PR powerhouse Burson-Marsteller and inspiration for the honorary Chair of Public Relations in his name established at COM in 2002

  • Carol Cone (COM '78), chairman and founder of Cone Communications, Inc. and pioneer in the cause of Cause Branding®

  • Graciously and aptly sitting in on short notice, Paul Rand, president and CEO of Z√≥calo Group, a freestanding division of Omnicom Group subsidiary Ketchum Inc., whose own CEO and Senior Partner Raymond Kotcher (COM '79), the originally scheduled panelist, found himself at a conflicting, last-minute meeting with a client halfway across the globe

Moderator Dr. Donald Wright, professor of public relations at COM, tossed the ball into play and then got out of the way. The panel discussion gave rise to a sprawling yet keen Q&A that meandered, just as any proper discussion of communications these days should, into the topic of online communication's effect on PR.

I found myself casing the many rows, keeping an eye on the guy at such events who mills about the audience as he carries the microphone. Fighting the urge to raise my hand and share my two cents, I ultimately resolved to refrain from speaking -- out of restraint, really. After all, I have this blog for that sort of thing. I'll share with you all some of the topics discussed, and my thoughts on them, over the next few weeks.

Friday, May 2, 2008

This is a test of the blogcasting system. This is only a test.