#PRevolution: The ever-changing landscape in today’s PR industry

April 21, 2016
Joanna Williams

The CPRS Hamilton Mentorship Program met on March 9, 2016 to discuss current trends in PR.

This interactive panel discussion included PR and industry experts: Jane Allison, APR, manager of community partnerships at The Hamilton Spectator; Karen Dalton, APR, executive director of CPRS National; Jane Stokes, author, editor and content-writing instructor; and moderator Brenda Sweeney, APR, managing director of Sweeney Communications Inc.

Here’s a summary of the evening’s discussions:

1. What strategies do you recommend for PR practitioners working with online influencers and citizen journalists?

Jane Allison explained that there are benefits to hearing additional voices and perspectives in the media landscape but with citizen journalists, there could be concerns of accuracy and journalistic ethics. Traditional media have a journalistic code of ethics, evaluate sources, and take into account legal considerations. This is not necessarily the case for all citizen journalists.

She advises to treat it as an opportunity. Look at them as any other audience, so get to know them and understand where they are coming from. If they are a good fit and are responsible for the information you provide them, you can explore partnership opportunities. For example, you could provide them with information ahead of time, if appropriate.

It’s important to treat this audience with respect, but she cautions to be aware of bias. Influencers and citizen journalists may have certain perspectives, and as a consumer, you need to be mindful of that. Allison adds if you choose to work with them as a media outlet, make sure they are worthy of your hard work, time and organization’s reputation.

Jane Stokes suggests one of the things that controls influencers and bloggers to be as honest as they can be, is their own reputation. Ultimately, they have to answer to their own audiences. However, she explains there is an opportunity for PR practitioners to control the message. Stokes recommends managing content with subtle messaging, by controlling the message, and avoiding the direct hard sell. She offered this content management formula:

2. How can PR facilitate an open and honest conversation through social media channels?

Karen Dalton explains that people get a lot of information through social media channels, but with the current algorithms, they are not getting all of the information.

She’s concerned with the change in how audiences, stakeholders, and customers are being influenced by social media channels now. She pointed out the skills in PR haven’t changed; writing is key. We still need to write, it doesn’t matter if it’s 140 characters or a formal essay.

Dalton explains it’s all about how you craft the message. There is a distinct difference in who is creating the message: journalists craft to inform; whereas PR crafts to influenceand change behavior. Dalton emphasized we need to remember that media and social media are not the audience (they are not the end user) – they are a channel to get your message out.

Jane Allison wasn’t surprised at all. She proposed that Cattrall news hijacked the story in a kind and compassionate way, while honouring her former relationship. Kim Cattrall corrected the story in a humorous way, and didn’t embarrass or shame anyone for the mistake.

Allison was shocked 60 Minutes made this mistake but acknowledged they deserve some compassion, as everyone makes mistakes. Then she offered this advice:

Although it did surprise her, Allison noted as quickly as the issue arose, it went away. A real advantage of having social media as part of your PR toolkit is that you can respond quickly, answer questions, and solve a problem almost instantly.

4. What do you think is PR’s role in monitoring and responding to inaccuracies?

As Karen Dalton explained, in the past a correction notice would be hidden in a newspaper. Now with social media, PR practitioners have the ability to catch inaccuracies quickly and address them publicly right away. We can monitor what’s being said, by who and where, in a very timely manner. Dalton added the instant feedback is very exciting for PR because you hear right away if something is good or bad, and detailed analytics are available to tell you information about who was listening and commenting.

5. How have our rapid-paced communication culture and our 24-hour news cycle impacted the way communications professionals respond to these types of issues?

It’s challenging for PR. Karen Dalton explained there’s a change in the way journalism is being practiced, with more American influence, and investigative pieces on scandals. Traditional media is looking to increase readership, so instead of just reporting the news, she says they are creating the news.

PR practitioners need to be ready for these investigative stories from traditional media. It really highlights that at any time an industry could be hit – so you need to be ready for the next scandal, disaster or crisis.

6. How does a PR person find their voice?

Jane Stokes said the PR voice is the client’s voice. She recommends incorporating two voices into the structure of articles and releases, and most importantly always maintain a journalistic style:

7. What do PR practitioners need to do to raise their visibility so they can move into the ranks of upper management?

Karen Dalton made it clear that PR professionals need to understand the objectives of their organization and what the company is trying to achieve. She advises to speak their language, and do your research to really understand the business and the financial return an organization is looking for. This will support PR practitioners in demonstrating the value they can provide in utilizing communications to help the organization achieve its goals.

8. What advice do you have on how to build a career in PR?

Jane Allison said she made relationships that helped her to move onto the next phase of her career. She recommends being open to different opportunities, identifying the gaps in your organization, and then figuring out how to fill that need.

Her other advice: be respectful, have a thirst for knowledge, and have an interest in the world.

9. What do you see as the newest trend on the horizon?

Jane Stokes suggested having a close look at your earn-paid-owned content on social media. She recommends to keep evaluating what you’re doing, and do what works. But remember that the audience comes first. Build trust with your audience and write what you would like to read.

Q&A Open Discussion

Janine Ivings asked: What are reporters looking for?

Jane Allison said when pitching stories, you need to look further and dig in. Before submitting a story, consider: “Why should the readers care?”

News organizations are strapped for time, so Jane Stokes said PR can help reporters in a big way by supplying interesting, helpful information.

Karen Dalton emphasized you need to talk to the right person. Be sure to do your research to understand each reporter’s deadlines, constraints and their audience. Know their beat, their style, what they write about, and most importantly read their work.

For junior practitioners, Dalton highly recommends they do their research because juniors tend to do media relations tasks. This is the most important job because it’s about convincing the media to run your story.

Now more than ever organizations don’t need media outlets because they are their own media outlet. Dalton explained before there was only one channel – the media; now organizations can do their own branded journalism.

Kim Sopko asked: What’s one skill PR practitioners should leverage to adapt in the changing PR environment?

Jane Allison: Be a good listener. You can woo people, empower them, validate them and make them feel that they are heard and understood.

Jane Stokes: Be creative, a good diplomat and trust your instincts.

Karen Dalton: Writing. You can never write enough, so perfect that. Write with a journalistic style because you need to be succinct in the way you communicate. We’re all writing for an audience, so be careful with the words you use and the way you present yourself.

Thank you to our engaging panelists and our moderator Brenda Sweeney for keeping the evening on track. A special thank you to the Burlington Fire Department Headquarters and Kim Sopko for being our venue sponsor for the evening.