How to Navigate the Electronic Landscape

Video, mobile, social and emerging media continue to force changes in the way PR works, creating both fresh opportunities and new challenges. Traditional media relations, stakeholder communications, crisis management, employee relations and measurement, for example, have to be managed through new kinds of technologies.

But PR agencies and brands that are leading the charge are blazing a trail of creativity, creating methods and techniques that others can learn from. In this very broad and ever-changing landscape, here is a look at how technological innovation is affecting five critical areas of the PR practice, as well as some perspective on moving your business forward.

The Team. The biggest issue for CMOs today is to re-skill their organizations and build new capabilities in areas such as big data/analytics, digital, social, mobile, gamification and design, according to Joe Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer of Coca-Cola Co.

“This is not just about hiring a few subject-matter experts, but building a team of knowledge leaders and practitioners in these critical new competencies,” he said. “If companies don’t, they will be stuck with traditional 1980s and 1990s brand-building skills in the 21st century world of an ‘always on’ consumer.” One solution, he added, lies in the Millennial marketplace. “Digital natives have a passion for connecting brands with people in new ways,” Tripodi said.

Media Formats. Savvy communicators for years have shunned stale, text-only press releases and instead provide reporters, stakeholders and consumers with multimedia content designed, created and distributed in new ways and through new media channels.

Multimedia allows PR professionals to tap into the human factor of visual, auditory and kinesthetic communications.

Not everyone is a great writer, but multimedia includes a variety of communication methods that can grab the attention of your audiences. Attention—otherwise known as “engagement”—is a hot commodity that can be amplified by effective PR. Deciphering the signal from the noise reminds practitioners to focus on messaging.

Tellabs, a global provider of network technologies for companies such as AT&T and Verizon, is committed to new forms of storytelling.

George Stenitzer, VP of communications for Tellabs, said his team distributes everything from enriched news releases featuring links to videos, infographics and studies. “We are fighting a battle to first win a little bit of attention, and then build on it over time,” he said.

He added: “In part, we do it to ourselves, as users. I seldom watch TV without a tablet in my lap. When the TV loses my attention for a second, I use my tablet, and vice versa. We all do it. It means your message has to break through the noise, either through sound or picture, and be able to convey a complete story, even if it’s on the TV without sound, or if the sound is on and I’m in the next room and I only hear the message.”

Pitches and relationships. If stakeholder communications is now done through many channels—with traditional methods by no means the most important or effective pitch anymore—then the same applies to media pitching and developing relationships with reporters and editors.

PR pros are, essentially, in the relationship business, according to Tim Marklein, CEO of Big Valley Marketing, a Silicon Valley consultancy that leverages data to forge marketing and communications strategies for tech companies.

But Marklein stressed that most practitioners are ineffective at managing relationships with reporters and bloggers.

“This is a very individualized activity, so if you were accustomed to having three channels to engage people—email, phone or in-person—we now we have 20 channels,” he said. “It makes it more complicated, but we can’t make it any easier....We need to know what reporters prefer. We need a full view of the relationships we’re managing.”

Breaking News: The biggest shift in PR revolves around mobile communications, with consumers hyperconnected, Tellabs’ Stenitzer said. “Everyone is reporting all of the time. In social media, there’s no particular editorial standard. It’s more of a ‘Wild West,’ because it’s unfiltered,” he said.

But fast and unfiltered can spell trouble for PR pros. The instinct of PR execs is to react to things very quickly. Stenitzer suggested that practitioners be patient when news hits Twitter and other social channels.

“It used to be that the wire services were filing every minute, newspapers had one day, and the 6 o’clock news had a 4 p.m. deadline,” Stenitzer said. He added: “In the end, even if the response is not immediate, PR pros still have to be able to at least make a decision about whether to respond to what’s posted in social media or what the news media are reporting.”

Measurement. Connecting the PR function with business outcomes will move the industry deep into a process-driven discipline called “Business Intelligence.”

It’s a place typically occupied by IT and human resources executives, and communicators are reluctant to venture into BI because it pushes wordsmiths and soft skills-type people out of their comfort zones.

It’s about business operations and revenue margins more than communications techniques.

The good news, Marklein said, is that every PR person doesn’t need to be an analyst; they merely need access to one. “PR and marketing communications need a full-time dedicated data jockey who really understands what’s going on in the data and of the data,” he said.

The bottom line: Technology can solve all kinds of problems. But for his part, Stenitzer said technology can’t fix a broken strategy or a weak message.

From Engagement to Conversion

Monitoring online conversations and website activity is the norm these days, but how are large companies turning these conversations into customers? George Stenitzer, VP of communications at Tellabs, a global provider of network technologies, stressed that his communications department uses a three-step soft conversion process:

1. We want Web visitors to read a blog, read an article from our magazine, watch a video or read a white paper. What we measure is the percentage of site visitors that do one of these four things. For example in a recent month, close to half of our website visitors did what we wanted them to do. In particular, with white papers, we use Marketo, a marketing automation tool.

2. In order to have access to our most valuable white papers, visitors have to register and give us information about themselves, such as company name, job title, contact information, etc.

3. That brings engaged visitors into our demand generation process. If we see someone downloaded a white paper and hit 15 other pages on our site, we figure they are serious, so we forward their information on to sales for follow-up.

Special shout-out to Emma Carey, AxiCom, for suggesting this article.


This article was written by Susan Young, a freelance journalist covering PR and marketing.

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.