In the short space of my 22 year career in PR, technology has revolutionised not only the way PR is executed but also the role of PR. It is no longer seen as an expensive and luxurious indulgence for large businesses and corporations. Instead it is literally at the touch of a social media button for all and today a release can be sent in a matter of seconds to contacts all over the world via newswire services.
From Facebook to Twitter, LinkedIn to Pinterest, every business can be the master of its own brand image and identity. You can promote what you are up to, connect with potential partners or clients, showcase your work and forge relationships with journalists at key publications in order to talk directly to your audience.
But in this technically savvy world, has the art of actual conversation been lost? A recent poll by Ofcom revealed that in 2011 58% of people surveyed cited that texting was their primary mode of communication. Smartphones have become the staple of modern communication allowing us to have the whole world at our fingertips; messaging is quick, easy and convenient and takes up much less of our valuable time than a simple phone call. And with an estimated 150billion texts sent in 2011 this looks set rise.
James Thickett, Ofcom’s Director of Research, said: ‘Our research reveals that in just a few short years, new technology has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate. Talking face to face or on the phone are no longer the most common ways for us to interact with each other.
‘In their place, newer forms of communications are emerging which don’t require us to talk to each other especially among younger age groups. This trend is set to continue as technology advances and we move further into the digital age.’
We live in a content rich world of tweets, blogs and emails but has what we are trying to say all just become white noise? How much notice do we actually take of what businesses are saying? I think my belief in effective use of social media hit rock bottom when a well known glue manufacturer stated at the end of its ad –‘…and we are on Facebook too!’ My immediate thought? So what!
The real art of good PR is and always has been knowing who your audience are, understanding their needs and interests and addressing these accordingly. Whilst Facebook may be right for a global fizzy drinks company, with a generation of young people at its fingertips actively engaging in social media, it won’t necessarily be right for a company that’s market is predominantly over 65.
‘What do you mean you didn’t have your own computer?”, ‘How did you manage without emails and the internet?’, ‘No mobile?’
There is no denying that social media holds huge relevance to the way we do business today and its effectiveness and ability to establish brand awareness and drive sales should not be undervalued, but by remembering the core values of PR and integrating new technology into established methods of communicating with your target market, you can’t go wrong.
PR has and always will be about the art of communicating verbally – whether by phone or face to face, so never underestimate the power of speech. When I talk of my inaugural time as a lowly PR exec back in the early 90’s I get many a bemused look from the 20 something people where I work.
‘What do you mean you didn’t have your own computer?”; ‘How did you manage without emails and the internet?’; ‘No mobile? You are joking me!’ So what you may ask did we do? We talked! We spoke to people, met with people and most importantly formed solid working relationships with journalists that lasted over years.
Putting in a call to a journalist to introduce yourself and to find out exactly what sort of stories they are interested in will be far more productive than sending out a faceless release, which will probably be lost amongst 1000s of other companies vying for their attention. A phone call is the start of building a connection with a journalist, which in turn can lead to coverage in your key media and prompt them to contact you when looking for comments, copy for future articles and so on.
PR should be part of your overall strategy, not an add on, it is an important part of your marketing mix and should be treated accordingly. Know you market and how to reach them and make sure you address your key messaging in everything you do, whether that is when sending a tweet or a more traditional press release.
Most of all remember that everything a company does to promote itself is a form of PR. From the lead generation calls it makes to the emails and letters it sends. Image is everything so make sure you spell words correctly – it’s amazing how many companies don’t – and present yourself at all times as you would want others to perceive you.
Typos will not only diminish your credibility with potential clients but also show a lack of care about quality or professionalism. In the extreme it can have serious ramifications on the trustworthiness of online sites and in turn damage sales. This is echoed by William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University who comments: “In these instances, when a consumer might be wary of spam or phishing efforts, a misspelt word could be a killer issue.”
Whilst technology and digital networking has enabled companies small and large to promote themselves at relatively no cost, this is often carried out sitting in isolation in front of a device. Meaning can be lost in the text or email along with the ability to build trust and loyalty.
Speech, on the other hand is always free and the old-fashioned art of conversation elicits immediate and often more productive responses than an impersonal text or email conversation can. With studies showing that an overwhelming 93% of communication is based on non-verbal body language how can an emoticon of a happy or sad face hope to compare?
According to www.forbes.com this ‘…presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected – and potentially more disconnected – than ever before…Further, because most business communication is now done via e-mails, texts, instant messaging, intranets, blogs, websites and other technology-enabled media – sans body language – the potential for misinterpretation is growing.”
So whilst social media is definitely here to stay just remember, as that well known BT ad used to say, ’It’s good to talk’.