PR through the Social Magnifying Glass

Five years ago, I looked back through rose tinted spectacles at the PR I was doing in 1999. How simple it was then, I thought. Magazines, newspapers, radio and TV - no bloggers, no online magazines, no forums and review sites; just the simplicity of a well-constructed press release and a tantalising photograph put into some warmed-up hands. 

Five years ago I was launching a PR campaign, with a press release that was written around a rigid set of SEO-ready keywords to an often-unknown collection of online journalists. Yes – I may have been an early SEO converted PR practitioner – but it was like fishing in the river with a wiki stick; where was it going, who was it aimed at, who was reading it anyway? Could one piece of writing really make a difference and how was it measured?

Things are so different just a few years later! At Coup Media our approach to all PR – digital and otherwise couldn’t be more opposite.

In a recent article ‘How PR has shifted over three decades’, Joseph Molina commented on the changes he has seen. He said; “Information circulation is 10 times faster or more than what it was when I started in the business. We are a “now now now” culture, and are expected to react as such. We used to have a 24 hour news cycle, now it’s up to the minute. News cycles can shift hourly. The PR industry is 24/7, and emails are expected to be answered in real time. These types of demanding hours and requests result in multitasking professionals driven to understand, develop and fit into the news landscape.”

He added; “Journalists used to have time to sit and fact check their stories with multiple sources. Now, with online outlets working at accelerated speeds, accountability and ability to back up research is compromised due to strict deadlines, even with the internet at their fingertips.”

And in a way, I agree. It is easier nowadays to write an article and submit it to offline media without fear of it being shortened or dropped – after all, their staff are less, their time is short. A well-written article is an article after all! But online, journalism and public relations have developed in such big way; research is paramount. Never has a digital PR strategy and delivery been more important to visibility.

In his blog Philip Sheldrake, author of the book The Business of Influence, comments; “During the 80s and 90s PR practice had largely narrowed its scope to media and analyst relations, and focused on the publicity model ('getting the message out' without much concern for 'getting the message in'). In recent times, social media has disintermediated relationships allowing, perhaps demanding, PR practitioners at least listen to the end-customer if not engage them directly.”

He posed the question ‘What is the influence of "digital" in these changes?’ and answered; “Digital media has enabled the disintermediation referenced above. It has allowed people to aggregate to common purpose, common love or indeed shared dislike, irrespective of time zone or geography. This has lent the 'little' customer and the 'little' citizen a new relevance and potency in the collective in their relations with Big Co. and Big Gov. and with each other.”

But does one find the ‘little people’ and communicate with them directly? Since coming to work with Coup Media from a traditional PR agency, I find myself a PR Director in a social sweet shop. With the incredible tools that the agency has developed, we can, for example, find not just a foodie journalist online, not just a slightly more specialist foodie blogger – but I can find the Mum that tweeted last week that suggested it to her friends and colleagues; how that influenced her friends and which ones acted on that review. I can drill deep into her contact base and communicate with them and know with absolute certainty that I can direct some of my PR to her and get a result (or conversion) for my client.

I can measure sentiment at the touch of a button – wow! I can identify a potential crisis before it happens, I can listen and analyse before the online (and offline) public are aware that something has even begun to happen. It may mean that I am writing two or three times the amount of press releases or articles, but I’m not writing them in the blind hope that I will somehow hit-the-mark, I know they will!

I know I’m not saying anything new here – but sometimes it feels like I am! I feel a little like Tom Cruise bouncing on the Oprah sofa and shouting about Katie; he wasn’t the first person in the world to fall in love – but he felt like he was.

No PR can be crafted without the guide of social analytics if it wishes to ‘hit the spot’ because those social analytics must always inform recommendations so that conversations lead to customers, customers lead to conversions, conversions lead to conversations; PR though a social magnifying glass.