Most Important PR Lesson of 2015? Endless Learning = Survival & Success


As we know, the PR landscape continues to evolve, which leads us to constantly reevaluate how we work and even change how we define public relations. Due to the rise of digital communications, traditional PR skills seem to be on the decline and new trends and technologies are emerging that are challenging PR pros.

Last year, Ronn Torossian, CEO and founder of 5WPR, included the following in his post “Top 10 Things for PR Professionals to Know in 2015”: mobile optimization, SEO, advertising copywriting, social content creation, analytics, speed to information, programming, virtual teams, video editing and production and blogger outreach. [The headings for the 10 sections in his 2016 list, published in PR News’ December 14 edition, were the same as those from his 2015 list, although the content was different.]

While PR pros are afforded Torossian’s cheat sheets, challenges still abound. In 2015—and we assume 2016 will be similar—PR pros were forced to alter strategies and adapt new techniques, which taught them valuable lessons.

1. Citizen Journalism Rises: Fans and critics of brands are sharing information in real time at an unprecedented rate. This has caused PR pros to be more proactive when it comes to communicating with the public while managing brand reputations online and in traditional media. “The growing importance of brand-building using authentic voices that will resonate with the respective communities has turned traditional media relations strategy and execution on its head,” says Wendy Zaas, EVP, Rogers & Cowan. PR pros now are forced to consider influencers across multiple channels as well as traditional media relations when preparing and executing client strategy. “Make no mistake,” she adds, “citizen journalism has redefined the strategic framework of PR program development and execution.”

2. Dewey Defeats Truman—The Press Release: While debate continues over whether or not the press release is dead, there’s little doubt that the relevance of the widely distributed press release is under attack. Take the case of Sarah Rose Attman, founder of Sarah Rose Public Relations. “I sent one [newswire] blast last year and it wasn’t particularly effective,” she says. “Instead, it’s all about the pitch. Make it strong, send it to a specific journalist, and that’s enough.”

At first glance email seems the easiest way to communicate with media and the most effective route to send information, but perhaps not. “An editor might not see your email in her very full and overflowing inbox,” says Deborah Kerner, president, Diane Terman PR. “An editor might not read your entire pitch, even though it’s short and to the point…and might not understand the scope of what you’re pitching.”

The eclectic mix that is PR 2015 is exemplified in Jason Parks, owner of digital agency The Media Captain. While he’s found success incorporating rich media into PR strategies, he believes the traditional tactic of speaking with a reporter on the telephone remains the most effective way to communicate a message. Should email and phone fail to lead to a response, “send product and/or information via messenger or FedEx with visual aspects that help get your message across and make your news stand out,” he says.

3. Measure Twice, Cut Once: It seems clear brands and firms have turned to digital measurement. “We started [in 2015] using Google and Hootsuite analytics…to highlight and quantify the value we bring,” says MJ Pedone, founder/CEO of Indra Public Relations. Measuring reach, frequency, impressions, engagement, etc. provides validity and real KPIs to evaluate the success of a campaign. Prior to using tangible data, assumptions were based simply on the cachet of the media outlet where a story ran.

4. DIY and Flexibility: SEO and social content creation were among Torossian’s top 10. Speaking to both, David Oates, president of Stalwart Communications, says, focus around “30% of your time on media relations and the rest on SEO, email and social media marketing.” He also advocates that you “be your own broadcaster and leverage SEO and digital marketing to get the word out.” Press coverage, he says, doesn’t necessarily lead to your meeting your desired business goals. A front-page story sometimes fails to lead to more fundraising or downloads of an app. PR professionals need to see what’s working in each case and shift their focus when necessary. This leads to number 5 below.

5. A Good PR Person Is Hard to Find: As PR, social media, marketing and content blend, finding a good PR person remains difficult. Erin Allsman, SVP, PR and social media director at Brownstein Group, says “The social media experience is no longer unique.” Brands and clients still want and need “media relations experts leading their PR effort.” True, PR pros are multi-taskers now more than ever, but the one constant is media relations experience.

6. Think Local: On the agency side, firms need to focus on their own PR. Typically they get too bogged down in client work and forget to promote themselves. Jim Miller, president of Momentum Communications Group, notes “We made a commitment to reinvigorate our agency PR. We significantly increased the frequency and variety of our website content, became much more active on Twitter and LinkedIn, and conducted good, old-fashioned media relations to promote our firm, awards and key account wins.”

7. Lifelong Learning: Perhaps the year’s most important lesson is PR pros must adapt traditional techniques to stay afloat in this demanding digital age. It is essential to develop campaigns that hit all these key points—citizen journalism, pitching, email and phone communication, SEO and analytics—to properly serve a brand or a client’s business, marketing and social media goals. Hitting the ROI bull’s-eye now requires community growth, social sharing, influencer endorsements and positive media coverage in the right outlets.


 This article originally appeared in the December 21, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.