Deirdre Breakenridge is an author, entrepreneur and CEO of Pure Performance Communication. A 20 + year veteran in PR and marketing, she is the author of five Financial Times Press books including her latest titles, Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional,” “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” and “PR 2.0, New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.”
Breakenridge is an adjunct professor at New York University (NYU) and speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of PR, social media and marketing. She is a recognized blogger at PR 2.0 strategies, and also the co-founder of #PRStudChat, a dynamic twitter chat with PR professionals, educators and students.
Dierdre spoke to Wordsmith Consulting about the evolving PR trends, challenges in a fast moving industry and ways for Communication Pros to keep afloat in the times ahead. Read the discussion here.
What kind of PR practices are redundant in modern times?
In today’s age of public conversations, and collaboration in web communities, PR professionals are still very focused on ethical practices. We are trying to make sure brand communication is accurate and has been created with good intentions. We are also still focused on being good corporate citizens, whether it’s our work in a physical community or a virtual web community.
Regardless of the type of communication’s strategy or the tactics we implement, our programs must include a planning process with research and audience profiling. We must develop programs with targeted goals and objectives, message and content development, and take into account the important question of measurement.
If anything, our responsibilities in these areas have expanded as a result of the many different ways that we can reach and build relationships with our constituents today.
What kind of evolution in PR have you observed over the years? Are there new skills that PR professional need to adopt to keep their reach growing?
PR has been revitalized by social technologies so that we can truly put the public back into our communication. Today we can listen and hear the voices of customers and other stakeholders.
We can be a part of their conversations by responding to their questions, comments and concerns directly through social media. Our communication is two way, interactive and much more human and transparent than in years past.
Brands have the opportunity to interact directly with people in web communities; a place where they were not invited to participate before. By taking this a peer-to-peer approach, they are able to make connections and build stronger relationships with their constituents.
This shift in approach moving from one way messaging to two way collaboration requires today’s PR professionals to learn and embrace new technologies, platforms, and applications.
We are much more hands on with technology, engaging with constituents and creating meaningful stories.
What kind of PR trainings can today’s professionals really benefit from?
PR training today includes how to incorporate digital, social and mobile strategically into an overall communication program.
Learning digital, social and mobile planning best practices, from research, audience profiling and content development to new channel distribution and measurement, is very important.
Today PR professionals are learning to roll up their sleeves by using these new technologies. They are beginning to understand how, when and where consumers want to receive their news and information.
Training PR professionals on monitoring and tracking conversations related to their brands, creating opportunities for social media engagement, developing influencer outreach programs, preparing for social media crisis and measuring ROI are all imperative for successful communication programs today.
Do you see PR as part of the marketing function? If not, then how can an in-house PR function perform at its optimum?
PR and marketing are becoming much more integrated today as a result of new media and the changing media landscape. The in-house PR function performs at an optimum level, when PR is connected to the overall marketing communication program.
PR can no longer work in a separate silo and it is also incorporating a mix of content into their programs, which includes earned, owned and paid / sponsored media. And, as a result of social media being utilized across the organization, different areas of the company are naturally participating.
From marketing and sales to customer service and HR, PR is forging deeper interactions with these areas and creating even more of a need to collaborate cross functionally.
What role does media relations play in Public Relations?
The media and building relationships with journalists still plays a tremendous role today. However, we have to realize that media can be a breakdown of traditional, digital and social media, depending on how and where your stakeholders consume their news and information.
It’s the PR professional’s job to understand audience preferences and how consumers today depend on trusted sources.
As a result, PR professionals are not only working with journalists, but also bloggers and influencers in web communities to share important news and information.
People in web communities may be more apt to share and/or act upon what the bloggers or new influencers say.
However, whether working with the traditional media or new influencers, you’re still dealing with people who need a reliable source and expect PR professionals to deliver accurate news, in a timely fashion to meet their deadlines.
How important is it for PR professionals to be social media savvy?
It is extremely important for PR professionals to be social media savvy.
In my book, Social Media and Public Relations, Eight New Practices for the PR Professional, I mention one of the new practices in PR is the PR Tech Tester. Today, PR pros have to learn and embrace new social technologies, platforms, applications and participate in communities where their audiences congregate.
Knowing where and how stakeholders communicate, and where they share and collaborate, is the only way to accurately counsel executives.
We have to be applying a best practices approach to communication that creates awareness, engages the public and builds long term relationships.
This requires always being 10 steps ahead in our understanding of the media landscape. If we are not staying current in our industries, our practices and advancing media technologies, then we will not be prepared to provide strategic communication counsel.
How would you suggest, PR professionals should look at measuring PR today?
Measurement must be a part of the strategic planning process. Setting your goals and objectives up front in a program is the only way to benchmark measurement throughout an initiative. Of course your objectives have to be quantified and measured over time.
We also have to realize that PR measurement is part of a larger ROI puzzle. What we do creates impact but does not always show a clear path or a way to determine its real impact.
For this reason, it’s important for PR teams to coordinate with other areas of marketing, web, customer service and sales to share the big measurement picture. This can be done by incorporating other data into our measurement programs to show overall success.
How important is crisis communication in the world of PR in this time and age? Do you think companies need specialized Crisis experts in the company to manage situations?
Crisis is more apparent now then ever before due to the age of public conversations. Companies, regardless of the extent that they use social media are subject to levels of crisis escalation both online and offline. With the speed that word of mouth travels, it’s important for companies to incorporate social media crisis into their crisis communication planning.
With that said, they also have to know (1) who at every level of a negative or a crisis situation will participate and (2) through which channels. The PR team must be actively listening to monitor and maintain the brand reputation.
Depending on the level of crisis, they are also including other team members, from customer service, marketing, technical representatives or subject matter experts as well as executives including a Chief Reputation Officer and the company’s CEO.
What should be the steps taken by PR teams in companies to stay on top of the happenings in the organizations?
PR has to take an integrated approach to internal communication to stay abreast. However, this goes for all departments as a business embraces social media across the organization.
When social media is used on the inside of the company, employees from different areas are able to share, discuss and innovate together through a collaborative platform.
Working collaboratively not only makes it easier to stay abreast and gauge the pulse of the organization, but it also helps to guide employee communication and can create opportunities for better branded touch points with customers and other stakeholders.
How has the role of a PR agency changed over the years?
The role of the PR agency has expanded. In many respects, PR is still directly involved in community, government, media, analyst relations, etc.
However, today, agencies are also taking an active part in blogger and influencer outreach programs. They are more involved in social media content planning and development, which requires a different writing skill set than previously used for traditional channels.
Because PR agencies are also experiencing a need from their clients to focus on a mix of content including earned, owned and paid (sponsored) content they are adding additional functions including creative design positions.
Although the function of reputation officer is still very much present, it has expanded in scope due to social media communication and the need to be actively listening to monitor and manage the brand reputation.
It is still the PR team that will watch for signs of negative comments or situations that may lead to crisis.
What do you foresee as the biggest challenge for PR as an industry in the coming times? How do you think PR pros can overcome this challenge?
One of the biggest challenges for the PR is measurement and showing value to the C-Suite. We are still trying to find a standardized way to measure communication. The Barcelona Principles proved to be a beginning step and there’s more work needs to be done in this area.
PR has tremendous value and it’s imperative that practitioners show this value by connecting their communication programs to higher level business goals. We have to tie our programs back to the areas that mean the most to the executives including financial, operations, reputation and customer satisfaction.
The term ROI has been thrown around loosely in many circles. From reputation management and crisis handling to our outreach programs, we need to demonstrate the value of PR and how it is a part of the ROI puzzle.
What would you advise newbies in the field of PR? How can they build their career paths today?
The best way to build your career is to connect and network with other professionals. Finding a mentor who will guide you down a PR career path can really enrich your learning experience. A good mentoring relationship will help you gain first hand knowledge from someone who can share insights and provide practical tips to help, especially as you face new challenges.
It’s also really important to join an industry association and participate in events and networking programs, so that you can stay abreast of the latest trends in PR and learn from seasoned professionals in the industry.
Lastly, embracing new technologies and participating actively social media communities will show your understanding of new media, which may open up opportunities for expanded responsibilities as you proceed down your career path.
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