A few months back, I was participating in an onsite client workshop during which the topic of social media was broached and a public relations (PR) manager urgently inquired, “How do we get people to retweet our press releases? I feel like we’re not getting any social media traction!” On the other end of the spectrum, social media pundits around the Web – often in a disingenuous (yet successful) attempt to drive blog traffic and interest from miffed and fearful PR people – are making bold statements like “Press releases are dead!” What is the place of the press release (and the B2B PR profession) in the context of social media?
Many experienced B2B PR professionals are either intimidated by or disconnected from the sudden ubiquity of social media. We see many B2B organizations whose PR function sits at the corporate communications level and whose social media function is nonexistent, nascent, or isolated as a quasi-bootstrapped strategy unto itself within the marketing group – sometimes even siloed within a single business unit. Too rare is the client whose social media and PR functions are coordinated, aligned and working toward common objectives with an overarching, shared strategy in place.
The eponymous “public relations” function is charged with just that: developing and managing relationships with the public. Traditionally, the channels by which this has been achieved have been media channels, with a smattering of strategic speaking engagements for senior-level executives or subject matter experts. The all-important subtext of a PR pro’s resume was the network of connections he or she could call upon to get a seat at the table, a quote in the article, a mention on the show, etc. And, for the last century, the format of choice (regardless of industry, target audience, or message) has been the press release.
Suffice it to say, it’s an interesting time to be in PR. Skill sets across the entire marketing organization are changing as technology evolves and adoption rates increase. The basic PR lexicon itself is evolving: Who and where is our public? What are that audience’s expectations around the way we relate to them? Who are the publishing “press” whom we need to educate and empower? Based on this, what does a press release look like and how is it transmitted? Can we even begin to create a crisis management plan, given the sheer volume of media, channels and voices from which a crisis might bubble up?
The most basic tenet of B2B PR has always been building and maintaining trusted relationships with relevant and influential journalists on behalf of a brand. This tenet remains, but the tactics, channels and expectations have changed and will continue to change and, frankly, speed up. In other words, strategic skills remain more relevant than ever. We must think creatively and forge conceptual connections between a client’s offering and an influencer’s interests. We must create a relevant and “tappable” network. We must be able to craft a compelling story. It’s just the toolkit that has altered.
We’re living in an age of integration and convergence. Technologies like quick response codes and location check-ins blur the lines between online and offline. Traditional marketing experiences like live events and television ads are being enhanced through opportunities for digital and mobile interactivity and exploration. B2C PR professionals have led the way in harnessing these technologies to add dimension to campaigns and meet the expectations of consumers, who implicitly demand tailored marketing experiences. Our research shows that the C-suite isn’t relying heavily on social media resources to research purchases (yet), never mind competing to become the foursquare “mayor” of your next big event; so, once again B2B marketing professionals must be intellectually creative in finding ways to leverage these tools in a way that’s supplementary and additive to (not separate from) existing efforts.
Additionally, we need to change the way we speak and think to reflect the new paradigm. The definition of media has expanded, so the definition of influencers has expanded beyond the traditional journalist. The average press release is shorter than it was even five years ago, and the “pitch” requires more tailoring, creativity and support materials (e.g. video, corporate blog entries) than ever before. The good news is that it’s much easier to research and appeal to the personal interests of your target influencers by crafting your pitch to meet a clear content need or interest of theirs; the bad news is that anything less than this type of effort is now rarely enough.
While reflecting on the above, consider this key question moving forward: How is your B2B PR function leveraging new tactics in a way that’s innovative while remaining true to fundamental strategic PR principles?