Deirdre Breakenridge is an author, entrepreneur, and CEO at Pure Performance Communications. As a 30-year veteran in public relations (PR) marketing and branding, she’s worked with senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies.
Deirdre is the author of seven business books, including Answers for Modern Communicators which was recently named one of the 100 best storytelling books of all time by BookAuthority. Deirdre is also the host of the podcast, Women Worldwide, which is in its sixth year and has nearly 2 million downloads.
Today, we’re going to discuss modern public relations and how it works alongside marketing.
Public Relations Then and Now
Bill Gates said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” PR is a great way to build awareness and credibility while protecting our reputation through the media, social media, and within our communities. Our goal should be to find the positive messages and stories in our organizations and share them with consumers. Since PR is such an effective way to build our businesses, we need to be aware of how the industry is changing.
When Deirdre entered the public relations industry, it looked very different than what it does today. Traditional PR was about writing press releases to hand out to news outlets, who would then share our story. However, this approach of trying to control the messages sent out to consumers doesn’t work as well with modern media. Our stories, whether good or bad, can be spread on social media in seconds.
The Pew Research Center found that 86% of Americans get their news from their smartphones or computers, over radio, television, and print publications. This means consumers don’t have to rely on news outlets to learn about our companies anymore. They have Google. They have Facebook. While 68% of Americans still get news from news websites and apps (traditional PR can still work), nearly just as many look to social media. According to a study, 53% of Americans say they get news from different social media platforms (Source: Pew Research Center). A news outlet may wait for a press release, but social media doesn’t wait around for an email to share a story.
PR professionals need to adjust to the fact that people have a wide variety of media outlets and platforms where they can get their stories. Today, many stories don’t flow out of a company’s communication department. The stories are created inside communities on social media. We don’t have as much control over the stories that get shared as we did before. Instead, people are citizen journalists and the power of the story lies in their hands-on social media. Modern media has become increasingly interconnected with marketing.
5 Ways to Effectively Implement Modern Public Relations
Here are five ways our companies and businesses can effectively use modern public relations.
1. Monitor Social Media
Often a story about our brand or company will find its way on social media before we know about it. Social media monitoring is essential to see how we’re perceived by our audience. We need to watch for the negative comments so we can catch them early on and find a way to amend them, while also watching for the positive comments so we can learn what stories our customers resonate with and continue to share them.
It only takes a few negative comments or missteps for our image to be impacted and our reputation to go down the drain. If we aren’t monitoring our social media channels, we won’t know when a negative story about our brand is circulating the web, and we won’t be able to take action to fix it. With modern PR, it’s our responsibility to monitor everything affecting our brand.
There are different tools and platforms we can use to monitor how our brand is perceived on social media. Deirdre recommends the free plan of Hootsuite. It can help us see who’s talking about our brand on social channels and what the conversation points are about.
Deirdre also recommends using Notified by Intrado, another platform that lets us monitor digital conversations. Notified can help us craft our stories and reach out to journalists through the platform, monitor and measure how well we’re doing, and see how much engagement our brand has.
Talkwalker is another social listening tool Deirdre finds useful. Talkwalker has an AI-powered analysis that provides real-time insights into what’s happening on all social channels and online media.
2. Be Active on Social Media
We shouldn’t just monitor social media. We should be actively engaged on all platforms to share positive stories about our brand. We have to realize that many stories develop away from the media. Even major media outlets keep an eye on social media for new stories. If we aren’t putting positive stories and messages about our brand out onto the world wide web, who will? One of our main goals should be to enhance our online presence.
As we become active on social media, this is where we begin to see a huge overlap in PR and marketing. With marketing, we want to create content to market our brand and with PR we want to create content to build our reputation. With both, we want to build relationships with our customers. The majority of our customers are likely active on social media platforms. We can engage with them through our content to build those relationships.
3. Build Relationships
We should develop good relationships with media outlets and influencers.
When it comes to getting our stories out in the media, it helps to have good contacts. When we’ve developed good relationships with producers, editors, or journalists at media outlets such as CNN, New York Times, or other local news sources, it is easier to reach them and get our story out. Even if a story is released on social media first, we can bring in experts who can comment on the stories. We can foster relationships by getting to know editors or journalists really well.
Once we know and understand the agenda of a journalist or outlet, it’s a lot easier to creatively pitch a story to promote our expertise. It’s important to remember that, when we want to be in the news or want to be covered, it’s not just about our agenda. It’s about their agenda as well. We have to think about what the media wants to share and why they want to share it.
Sometimes media outlets may release a negative story about our company. This is another great reason why we should be developing relationships. If a company releases a story that will reflect badly on our brand, we can get in contact with them sooner to make amends if we already have a relationship with them. I have found that recently, a lot of what PR practitioners do is repair reputations. They need to know when to make comments on stories and when to leave them alone.
Not only should our PR practitioners focus on building relationships with the media, but they should also start building relationships with influencers. According to a Global Communications Report, 60% of PR executives believe influencer marketing is becoming a vital part of PR (Source: MediaKix). We can use our PR department to help reach out to influencers to share our brand messages.
Since public relations is about credibility, public opinion, and shifting opinions, it is great to align with other influencers who have credible brands. Whoever we align with will be a brand representative.
4. Work with the Marketing Team
PR and marketing often overlap. Teamwork between these two critical components of our business can be the difference between success and failure.
Search engine optimization used to be separate from PR, but this has changed. PR is all about storytelling and content. In fact, “80% of PR professionals and marketers believe the future is digital storytelling.” (Source: mediakix.com) We have to understand how we are tagging our content and what descriptions we are using. We also need to be on the same page with marketing. Who is using our content? How are they optimizing? How do we optimize together? When a campaign is rolling out through marketing, the best thing the marketing department can do is have the public relations team on board and ready to gauge public perception over a campaign. We shouldn’t have to guess what’s going on.
We don’t want to have “silo working” within our organizations. Silo working happens when different departments don’t communicate with other individuals they work with. This can create a huge problem as it leads to misunderstandings and confusion, reducing efficiency.
Deirdre said we can help break down work silos by helping our PR and marketing teams understand what each other’s jobs are. Deirdre said that she once had a training session with PR and marketing and found that each department didn’t know what each other’s day looked like. To fix this, it helps to have a buddy system where we share what we do or walk a day in someone else’s shoes. This can open our eyes to what others are doing, why they’re doing it, and how we can help each other.
We should have closer internal communication. Collaboration and innovation have to start with the entire team.
5. Be Conscious of What We Say and Do
Above all else, if we want to have a good brand reputation, we have to actually be good. We need to make sure we are staying positive, staying true to our brand, and providing value to our customers. A news outlet can’t write a bad story about us if there isn’t one. They also can’t write a good story about us if there aren’t any.
Deirdre believes that modern PR is a responsibility. What we do and say is part of this responsibility. It’s essential to know what goes on around our brand. It’s as if we’re in a fishbowl. Everything we do is seen by everyone else, emphasizing the need to be open and transparent. Our stories must show ethics and good judgment. In the current saturated media landscape, we want to be the experts who bring helpful information.
A PR executive can help our company say and do the right things. They help us interact with the media and can provide advice on touchy subjects. For example, in 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement became so powerful and important, that many businesses decided to come out and release a statement supporting it. With such controversial and deeply emotional topics, our brand needs to be careful about what we say and don’t say. A PR specialist can help us with that.
Thank you so much Deirdre for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. PR has changed. Many stories no longer flow out of a company’s communication department. The stories are created inside communities on social media.
2. Social media monitoring is essential to see how we’re perceived.
3. We should be actively engaged on social media to share positive stories about our brand.
4. We should develop good relationships with media outlets and influencers. It’s better to have 10 really good relationships with media professionals than to have a list of 100 connections that barely know us.
5. PR and marketing leaders should collaborate and lead the way for their teams to collaborate.
Connect with Deirdre
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