When social media hit communications’ main stage, executives everywhere took note. Whether or not they participated actively or adopted it willingly, its emergence demanded their attention, which caused some communicators to put traditional media relations on the back burner while they began experiencing digital platforms wholeheartedly.
Now, though, the question is not how to engage and build relationships online, but how to determine the best mix of traditional and social media in outreach efforts. After all, the majority of business leaders would finally agree that digital communications channels aren’t going anywhere, and neither are traditional ones. Thus, a truly integrated approach is necessary for success.
“Executives need to be aware of the convergence of media,” says Johna Burke, vice president of BurrellesLuce. “They need to be able to leverage that with all communications efforts.”
This trend of media convergence is just one of many changing the game (yet again) for communications professionals. Consider the other game changers, outlined below, and how PR executives can leverage them to advance their brands, reputations, bottom lines—not to mention their profession as a whole.
PITCHING MEDIA BECOMES AN EXERCISE IN DISCRETION
The crux of media relations has always been the pitch process, which hinges on the creation and dissemination of press releases. Today, press releases are still a core component of media relations, but they increasingly are becoming secondary to the act of building relationships with media.
Indeed, press releases are a way to engage traditional and digital media representatives, but they must work in tandem with other strategies and tactics, all of which are aimed at initiating and strengthening media relationships.
“The format of news has evolved, so the strategy of pitching should, too,” says Julie Crabill, a communications and marketing consultant. “The old way can’t succeed in a social media world. Today, creating a dialogue is priority one.”
To create a dialogue, communications execs are increasingly looking to a modern iteration of the traditional press release: the social media news release. This, Crabill says, “is all about democratizing your content beyond the traditional press release” to include dynamic information in various formats, and to direct bloggers and journalists to platforms beyond the release itself. News releases, then, are windows into a larger brand story, not vehicles to seal a sales deal.
“Press releases can be a sales tool, but they should not be a sales pitch,” Crabill says.
Nor should they be sent out blindly to unfocused lists of media reps. This is a surefire way to end up in spam filters or inbox trash cans. Traditional and digital media should be highly targeted, and press releases should be customized to pique the individual interests of recipients.
Another critical element: the subject line.
“Some journalists and bloggers set up their e-mail accounts to catch messages with “great story idea” in the subject line in their spam filters,” Burke says. “That way they never even see those press releases.”
SEARCH BECOMES CENTRAL TO MEDIA RELATIONS
Just as the pitch process is becoming more nuanced, the role search plays in media outreach is growing in importance.
“Search must work in tandem with media relations,” Burke says, noting that most journalists do Google searches as the first step in researching stories.
Search’s importance to media relations strategies is growing even more as search is “socialized” to include everything from YouTube videos to tweet streams in results. For example, Google and Twitter recently inked a deal in which Twitter will now provide Google with data for search rankings.
The implication for communications executives: In addition to optimizing press releases for search, they must also optimize their company/client’s Twitter account(s), YouTube videos, Facebook profiles, etc. Otherwise, when a journalist/blogger does a search on a brand for a story, the top results might not be properties owned/maintained by the brand itself.
A few tips for communicators in the context of this trend:
• When preparing spokespeople for media interviews, have them do a Google search to see what comes up. This will give them an idea of what the reporter will have seen beforehand, and it can help them anticipate potential questions and, in turn, shape strategic responses.
• Search Twitter for conversations about the topic at hand prior to a media interview or a story pitch. Sites like whatthehashtag.com make this easier by providing complete transcriptions of conversations around specific hashtags, along with analytics.
ALL EMPLOYEES BECOME SPOKESPEOPLE
Lately, a number of stories surrounding companies’ implementation of social media policies have emerged, many of which don’t put the companies’ leaders in the best light. Specifically, news organizations like the Washington Post and ESPN have created policies that all but prohibit employees from participating in social media conversations in “professional contexts.” The problem, according to Monte Lutz, SVP of digital public affairs at Edelman: “Companies think they are driving the car, but they really aren’t.”
By limiting employees’ participation and trying to control the brand’s voice in online conversations, executives are doing more harm than good. The smartest companies, Lutz says, empower employees to represent their brands in social media by training them and giving them the tools to communicate with external audiences effectively. Instead of blocking employees, thereby restricting reach and influence, they encourage them. The payoff: maximum impact and authentic messaging (see sidebar).
Ultimately, these trends are just three of many that have swept in to change the game of communications. Regardless of the issue in question, it is essential that communicators acknowledge what Lutz calls “an evolution, not a revolution.”
“You need to pick the platforms that work for your audience,” he says. “Then, practice with them, but without fear.” PRN
Monte Lutz, firstname.lastname@example.org; Julie Crabill, email@example.com; Johna Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org.