PR News Q&A With Bonin Bough: Will PR Miss Out on Social Media?

Bonin Bough

Successful social media engagement is all about relationship-building and smart, focused communications tactics—traditionally the domain of public relations professionals. In this Q&A, Bonin Bough, global head of digital for PepsiCo, shares his insights into why PR professionals must integrate social media into their broader communications. He will expand on this theme in his keynote address, "Digital Fitness: A Matter of Survival for PR Professionals," at PR News’ Facebook Conference on August 9 in San Francisco.
PR News: Does the rise of the social Web represent an opportunity for PR professionals to reposition themselves within corporate and nonprofit organizations?

Bonin Bough: Yes, I 100% believe that. I grew up in digital marketing shops running digital media and have performed every role. My first agency was a digital production practice within a PR firm, and the majority of our clients were strictly digital, while others were shared with the PR team. These agency of record engagements were big clients such as Kellogg’s, Novartis and Citi. The second group I ran was a bit more integrated with the broader communications team. So I have seen it from the inside, and I can tell you that the core skills of communicators—storytelling, authentic communications and the art of persuasion—are critically important.

At the same time, I often feel communications agencies and teams confine themselves to a specific segment within social. They don’t necessarily take the opportunity to lead. PR agencies are not adapting quickly enough, they are not thinking broadly enough, they do not understand the stakes. Social media success depends on relationship building and genuine, sustained authentic engagement—the core competencies that PR is built on. But it also requires a deep understanding of consumers and media. It is not too late for PR to capture the massive opportunities in social media, but the industry needs to kick into high gear right now.

As communications experts, [we] have a right to lead strategy in digital and build the relationships while delivering messaging, but oftentimes we fall short because we don't know the tools and have the measurement capabilities. Too often we view “social media” as a discrete practice or discipline when in fact digital media has changed every facet of marketing communications.

PR News: What is at stake if communicators don't seize this moment?

Social media used to be lumped in with larger communications programs, but more and more of that budget is being taken by specialty agencies. Clients are starting to recognize—before the agencies, in many cases—that social media requires particular expertise and know-how. If conventional PR outfits don't offer that, they will get it from new, specialized players. Already this is happening with the huge growth of social media agencies. That was their lunch. Digital did it to ad shops, so history is a good predictor of the future. Again, it isn't too late to win that confidence (and business) back, but if communicators don't seize the moment, the fastest growing piece of communications’ budgets is going to slip out of reach.

PR News: How can communicators best prove the need for investment in social media activity to top executives?

Bough: If you are faced with a situation in which a client wants you to justify social media as part of a communications program, you really might as well walk out the door. Having worked on the agency side for many years, I know that isn't realistic, but the point is that by now the importance of these platforms should be self-evident. If an executive doesn't believe that, tell her to ask her neighbors where they go to see pictures of their kids, or who broke the news of the death of Osama bin Laden or [about] the technology that fostered the organizations behind the Egyptian revolution.

PR News: What do you hope attendees will take away from your keynote presentation on August 9?

Bough: In a word? Fear…just kidding. Perhaps attendees will feel, at least, urgency. I want people in this industry to be scared enough to change.

Attend PR News' Facebook Conference on August 9 in San Francisco and learn more from digital leaders like Bonin Bough.

  • Ed Lallo

    Storytelling is the key for a successful online communication program.

    When Springfield Lewis, Newsroom Ink’s Vice President of Strategic Communications, first developed storytelling as a measurable communications tool while Director of Communications at EDS, his reward was an IABC Gold Quill and numerous speaking engagements around the world.

    As a former partner at The News Group Net, along with David Henderson and myself, he took storytelling online with the development of the first dynamic online newsroom staffed by professional journalists. The new tool enabled a company in crisis to get it’s accurate story told to its many audiences, and provided accurate measurement along the way.

    As Bonin Bough points out in the interview, “successful social media engagement is all about relationship-building and smart, focused communications tactics—traditionally the domain of public relations professionals. As communications experts, [we] have a right to lead strategy in digital and build the relationships while delivering messaging, but oftentimes we fall short because we don’t know the tools and have the measurement capabilities.”

    Storytelling without accurate measurement and being tied to the CEO/corporate agenda and calendar is ineffective.

    Let’s face it … Facebook is not the place for the public face of a company’s PR strategy. Conversations being held on the many pages of Facebook are fleeting and have no structure. They’re open only to those that “like” a page. What’s more, they cannot be directed to a higher level and are not tied to the company’s business or executive agenda.

    The dynamic online newsroom is the place to hold an effective conversation with a company’s many audiences. It translates the corporate agenda into compelling stories that the media, customers, employees, vendors and stakeholders want to read, learn more about, believe in and contribute – all on a regular basis.

    In the world of social media, Twitter has become the headline. Facebook is the front page. Blogs are the editorials. The online newsroom is the entire publication. It becomes a company’s content engine – complete with social media – that’s archived for history.

    Most important, the online newsroom platform is safe and secure – for readers and company alike. There is no profiling, data-mining, security issues and blocked access – all potential landmines for lawsuits, not only the social media sites but also the companies using them.
    The online newsroom is the social media site for PR professionals. It allows a company or organization to communicate directly with reporters, influencers and the public. As the company’s content engine, it is branded and integrated with the corporate website and social media sites. It can be hosted separately as a standalone media hub.

    Ed Lallo
    Newsroom Ink

  • comrade joseph adebo

    am presently working with a pr fiem in nigeria, but we are yet to key into the idea of social media, infact in nigeria, this is new, how can we convience our client that social media, that is digital communication is of wider coverage than print media, do advise me, thanks