Future of public relations and social media – the truth according to Mashable

Yesterday Mashable had an absolutely ridiculous article on the ‘Future of public relations and social media‘.

Some of its analysis and expert opinion was truly breathtaking in its simplicity.

News releases still aren’t dead

Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! First up for being wrong is the assertion that the press release is dead. Please, we were there in February 2006  with Tom Foremski’s Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die and we’ve been there every year since – and the traditional press release is still alive and kicking. Back then I pointed out that Foremski was an ex-Financial Times journalist and what sort of idiot PR person would target the FT with a press release and expect it to work on its own?

It’s all about using the best tool for the job and frequently that means both a traditional news release and a social media news release. There are thousands and thousands of journalists out there who just want a well written news release that they can edit easily to fill the pages of regional papers, weekly papers, trade magazines etc. Sending out an identical news release to hundreds of journalists has ALWAYS been a fairly useless tool for generating news stories, especially if you’re targeting big media outlets such as national newspapers and broadcast news.

Social media news releases are fantastic and we use them successfully all the time for our clients, but we also know why we’re doing it and what we’re trying to achieve. It’s not just about leaping aboard the latest bandwagon.

It’s all about brevity and YouTube video announcements

Apparently social media is all about brevity and making things shorter. I suppose that’s why we add all that extra content in a social media news release is it? If brevity means faster, then tripling the amount of content is a big fail.

The next stellar idea is to direct time-starved journalists to a YouTube video with a message from the CEO making the announcement. Wow! That’s going to save them time and get the message across quickly and accurately isn’t it? Or not. Let’s see, first they have to spend three minutes watching it then they’ve got to transcribe it to get the quote out in order to be able to write their story. Or is it just that the PR person wants to control the message and stop that pesky journalist reporting the story? Instead the journalist can just embed the video and leave the inquisitive reader to be sold the unedited company line. I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong I like the idea of CEOs and directors utilising YouTube, but let’s stop and think about why and what we want to achieve. As supplementary content for a journalist creating online content it has a value, but as a primary delivery channel it’s far less efficient than the traditional news release. It would be great content for the end audience, but not for most journalists. A live video webcast where journalists and the public can ask questions directly would have far more value.

Successful pitches have always been succinct. When I started in public relations that meant if you were faxing a news release with all the background information the journalist needed then the cover sheet would have the compelling pitch. You’d also have a 20 second verbal pitch prepared for phone calls. The only difference today is that your succinct pitch might be delivered by email or even Twitter with a link to the full news release (please never an attachment) on the web.

Crafting a good news release hasn’t changed

The idea that social media news releases need to be ‘more brief and focussed’ is nonsense. In the old days a good news release told the whole story in the first paragraph, I think that’s as brief as you can get. The rest of the news release has always been about adding background information. Social media news releases are exactly the same – get across the news and pertinent facts as succinctly as possible, and then support it with supplementary content.

Monitoring is most important today, not in five years

Another piece of hokum is that apparently today the most important public relations tools are the broadcasting tools, but in five years time, the most important tools will be the monitoring and measurement tools. What total and utter nonsense!

Using monitoring and measurement has always been one of the most important aspects of public relations, even before the internet existed. Back then it was all about analysing print media for competitor coverage, seeing what story trends were emerging so you could create content that fitted, responding to what was being said about your industry sector etc.

We do exactly the same thing today on the internet. The main changes are that the volume of content to be monitored and measured has increased dramatically, but we also have far more effective tools for doing it.

One of the few intelligent comments came from Chuck Tanowitz who points out that you can’t just measure influence online. He uses the example of Mayor Setti Warren who has just more than 700 followers on Twitter, so he’s obviously not that influential. Except when he was elected as mayor he got a call from President Obama, so maybe he does matter.

Social media isn’t free

And finally there’s the example of the company that saved $270K in expenses by using social media. Except I’m not sure it did. What it did was fire its PR agency, apparently saving the $250K fee, and saved an additional $20K in events (travel, venue, promotions etc). Instead it brought its PR in-house and focused on social media. This anecdote might mean something if we knew how much time was then spent on this by people in-house – they do have salaries and presumably were doing something before getting this additional workload. And saving $20K in events – it’s a tiny amount and probably only relates to one or two events.

Rant over, comments welcome.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.

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  • http://twitter.com/robskinner Rob Skinner

    Wise words, Stuart. I agree with every word.

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  • http://www.WaxingUnLyrical.com Shonali Burke, ABC

    Stuart. WORD!

    Excellently-written rant and now I have something to link to in a post I’m preparing as well. Perhaps what disappointed me most about this was the extremely narrow view of the article that “PR” and “publicity” are synonymous… at least, that’s how it came across to me.

    As I said in a comment on the post, until we “PR people” are going to stop putting ourselves in boxes, no one else is going to. Want that ruddy seat at the ruddy table? Start thinking strategically and focusing on business objectives, instead of whining about no one listening to you or taking PR seriously (and you know I don’t mean YOU, right?).

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  • http://twitter.com/ericaswallow Erica Swallow

    Hi Shonali! I thought that was an amazing comment, and as I mentioned in my response, I was hoping to express that “the human factor” (i.e. building relationships) is really the most important part of PR. By placing it at the end of the article, though, I may have devalued its importance. Thanks for the feedback!

  • http://www.WaxingUnLyrical.com Shonali Burke, ABC

    Hey, again, Erica! I just left a very looong comment over at Mashable, so I’m not going to repeat it here, except to reiterate my opinion. You do indeed touch on relationships but even in that section, the article essentially brings it back to press relations, which is not the be-all and end-all of “PR.”

    If you’re open to connecting offline, I’d love to do that, so that I don’t bore everyone on these threads. No worries if not.

  • http://twitter.com/jennysimpson Jenny Simpson

    “The next stellar idea is to direct time-starved journalists to a YouTube video with a message from the CEO making the announcement. Wow! That’s going to save them time and get the message across quickly and accurately isn’t it?”

    I love this point – transcribing text from a video is one of the most tedious jobs out there…no journalist is going to bother.

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  • bookface

    The absence of “public” in this post tells the tale. This is the kind of stagnant 20th century mindset that pr is little private get-together just between pr pros, journalists and c-execs. Their pressrelease-style noise exchange is not PR because it’s got nothing to do with public, it’s just plain old media relations. With all due respect the author doesnt seem to be aware that there’s a whole generation of people who never trusted or even paid attention to traditional media.
    All ^ is pure IMHO ofc.
    Regards,
    20-something PR student who never read a newspaper in his life.

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  • http://twitter.com/ctanowitz Chuck Tanowitz

    Stuart,

    Thank you very much for the kind words. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write this comment, but I just had a few minutes to go through the comments on the piece and found your thoughtful counterpoint.

    Frankly, I agree with you overall that PR hasn’t changed, only the tools. If you do PR well you learn as much as you can about the people you are targeting, whether that’s to convince them to write about your client or whether you want them to read your material. You then deliver good quality information that people can use.

    The key difference today is the form the information takes, and that form should be driven by the information itself and the audience you wish to reach. Video is a great tool and one that we all should utilize, but we need to be aware of a) the cost b) the benefit for that cost and c) whether the audience wants or needs video (just to scratch the surface).

    Still, any channel is but one channel and you still need to measure. As my colleague Todd Van Hoosear likes to point out, Social Media is great because it gives us a lot to measure, but it can give us almost too much and you must understand what it is you’re measuring.