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The New Breed of PR

Last week I spoke at the Council of PR Firms "Internfest" on a panel about being a "Specialist" in a PR firm. The lovely Melinda Zurich followed up the presentation with a few questions, which I've answered below, for their weekly email.

I wanted to write about how this new breed of young PR professionals (digital natives) are changing (or not) the face of the industry through their innate online/social media skills. I wanted to know what some of your thoughts were as a senior-level person working in the industry.

Do you think the new crop has a leg up when working on new media projects?

As it relates to the actual use of technology among their peers and the ability to adapt, I would say "yes". It doesn't mean that they all understand how new media can be utilized to target their demographic, but at the very least they are a keen focus group for targeting Gen Y.

Do you think the use and impact of digital/social media in public relations is just another tool, just another fad/trend, or will change the industry forever? Are we making too much of it? Why?

I think it has changed the industry forever, and the PR professional needs to adapt. Will the "big hit" in the NYTimes or on ABC News still matter? Yes, to some. As the Atari generation showed us, digital is not just a fad - it's become part of life, and with Gen Y it is life. Newspapers and "the news" aren't how kids consume. The Daily Show was their number one source of news during the last election, if that's any indication of their consumption.

The reality is that the ability to publish, share, create and comment has turned everyone into a broadcaster. The question is, "Will PR get out of the 'Top 10', 'Billions of impressions' mindset fast enough to realize that this is about niche and micro?"

Do you see senior-level PR people going to these youngsters for guidance on client-related work because of their new media skills?

They already are doing it. Smart folks listen before speaking, regardless of their seniority, and those with clients targeting people online need to first see what the reality is vs. the aspirational "messaging" that we want to achieve. This isn't exclusive to PR, as typically we are about conversation whereas advertisers will put forth their creative platforms, developed in brainstorms and behind the iron gate of the "agency".

The senior PR practitioner still brings the relationship, trust, client, brand and specific industry knowledge to the table, and if you're up to date, the online knowledge is in there as well.

Other observations

Realistically the medium and expectations have changed drastically for the PR industry from one built on words to one based on real actions. Forget about asking people to deliver "on message", because that's aspirational. It also provides brands with the biggest opportunity, which is to take people from reality - how they're talking now - to the aspirational of "delivering your message".

The crucial issue is trying to train all PR pros to understand that real measurement for our clients doesn't lie in delivering messages or happen en masse, at least not at first. If you treat people right, engage and truly understand their wants and needs and speak to them in their own language, you will see a noticeable shift in attitudes, opinions and behaviors.


Leo Bottary said…
David, I think your answers are spot on. It's also important to note that customers and other stakeholders are watching their favorite brands closely for HOW they interact and engage with them. They're asking, "Do they want to just push information on me, or do they want real dialogue?" To your point, actions not just words.

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