“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” Bill Gates.
How many times have we found ourselves in front of our cell phone or our computer screen regretting what we just posted online? Luckily we can delete it, and move on with our lives, without risking anything because at the end of the day, we are not a big brand or an important public figure. The truth is nobody important is following us.
But, what happens when it’s one of our clients?
That is why I wanted to start this blog with that particular quote from Bill Gates, because even though it’s a simple phrase, it certainly has a deep meaning to those of us who work in Public Relations, especially now during this revolutionary digital age. It’s a time in which everyone is overwhelmed with information and the different platforms and countless electronic devices in which information is received.
Currently the average person receives 285 messages through social media and at least 121 emails per day. These numbers don’t include journalists and editors, who receive approximately 300 emails daily with news to publish. Based on this data, and taking into consideration the new ways of news distribution, where do Public Relations professionals currently stand and how can we control our communications campaigns?
In order to define our new goal as PR professionals in this digital age, it is important to understand which has been our role in the past. We have been the ones in charge of building a foundation of credibility towards a brand, a company or a personality. We have always been and still are the masters of image positioning, the ones in charge of highlighting the best characteristics of a product to generate sales, ratings or fame. Our responsibility is to create and maintain the positive image of a brand as a long term goal, through key messages that are totally understandable for the public or audience who receives them. Even when a brand that we represent has a mishap, we have the obligation to be honest by giving the audience a clear and understandable explanation of what happened.
It is obvious that the marketing and communications industry has been forced to evolve according to the new technological advancements, but this doesn’t mean that the traditional methods have to become obsolete, because if so, we will be losing the real essence of what our job means. What we really need to identify is our audiences, the new communication tools, and how to utilize them best to achieve our public relations campaign objectives. Nowadays we need to be careful about how and where we distribute the news. We need to be very conscious of the fact that everyone has quick access to the internet and social media. Every time an incorrect piece of information gets published our entire promotional plan gets compromised and we suddenly find ourselves in a sticky situation. For this reason it is very important to promote teamwork and create an alliance with other departments within the company. We are no longer the only ones in charge of creating key messages for the press, or the ones that organize press conferences and write press releases, now we are also in charge of meeting with the marketing, digital and social media teams to develop 360 promotional campaigns that are not only targeted to journalists, but also to various segments of the population, including: students, parents, millennials, influencers, bloggers, executives etc., people that don’t communicate in the same way they used to before, and don’t receive their information through traditional media outlets, but instead use their phone, tablet or social media platform to get the latest news.
Without judging the work of the new digital media agencies, the messages disseminated about a brand, including the direct interaction with the public through social media, need to include a public relations component and in my opinion needs to be a joint effort wherein the public relations team leads the promotional communications campaign.
It would be unfair from my end to deny that the use of social media has been of great benefit to the Public Relations industry, because through it you get direct interaction with your targeted audience and you can also maximize the image of a company, a product or a public figure. In addition, you can get direct feedback from the public and learn almost immediately what is being said about the brand, and correct mistakes. But, I also have to mention that a bad social media move can create a public relations crisis. It takes only a second to send an incorrect message through social media and to destroy the reputation of a company or a person, and even though there is the option of “deleting” a comment or “take down a photo”, the reality is that everything goes out at such speed that only with a screen shot the message can continue to go viral. As I said before, it only takes a second to create a communications crisis through social media, but it takes a complete team of public relations professionals to fix it, including months of work to revamp that image.
Bill Gates was certainly right when he said that if he has only one dollar left, he would spend it on public relations, because even in an age in which everything goes fast and the distribution of content is immediate, there is something that we will not be able to replace and that is the power of good professional relationships, good reputation and the importance of communicating correctly.