Michelle Sullivan Communications

Top 10 qualities of a PR practitioner in the digital age

Remember back in high school? When the guidance counselor had you take a personality test and then announced with great authority that you should become a ‘teacher, journalist, lawyer or communicator’ ? Looking around at my peers, I can definitely spot some common traits.

But what does it take to do PR in the digital age? Here’s my top ten list of qualities a PR practitioner must have to successfully make the transition from traditional PR to new PR:

1. Intellectual curiosity. If you’re the type of practitioner who is satisfied with what has been tried and tested, and who isn’t naturally inclined to check out new ways of thinking about and doing PR, you may want to step aside and let someone else run your client’s social media campaign. Social media isn’t about tools. It isn’t Twitter or Facebook, but what the popularity of Twitter and Facebook have to say about how people want to communicate, share and learn. It’s about a new mentality and new expectations. Right now, social media is still the Wild West. Anything can happen. Scary? Depends on your personality.

2. Passion. The advent of social media represents a new era for PR and the way in which it is practiced. This should excite you, and your significant other and friends should either find your enthusiasm contagious or start to complain that you’re sounding like a broken record. If you’re not passionate about how you spend a significant part of your day, not only is social media likely not for you, you may want to start thinking about a new career. Life’s too short and our industry’s reputation needs passionate advocates.

3. Dedication. Taking the social media plunge doesn’t mean staying in the wading pool and splashing a bit of water around. It means diving in to the deep end. It means getting wet. Very wet. It means knowing what a blog is, by blogging. What a podcast is, by podcasting. What an online community is, by becoming part of one. It doesn’t have to be a PR blog or a PR community. If you’re nervous about swimming with your peers, then check out the pool of fellow scrapbooking, cycling, photography or Sherlock Holmes fanatics.  If you’re going to add social media to your box of tricks, then commit to it fully. If not, outsource, because you’re better off working with someone who does.

4. Integrity, authenticity and transparency. In the world of social media, there is a code to live by. Transgress this code by putting up a fake blog, for example, and not only will your client suffer the wrath of the public once the subterfuge is uncovered, your own reputation will take a hit. No one likes a fake. It’s just lame. Any future endeavours will automatically be considered suspect.  Flogs are the clearest indication that your PR philosophy remains old school. Be real. Be straightforward. Don’t play games or try to manipulate. Be confident in who you are, and in the value of the message, product or service your client has hired you to communicate, or walk away.

5. Humility. There is no such thing as a social media expert, just yet. All leaders in the space have wisely, and firmly, refused the crown. Anyone who claims to be one is delusional, self-aggrandizing or a liar. The space changes too quickly. We’re gaining competence, but true expertise remains elusive. So why bother pretending? Ask questions, solicit advice, get help. Work with like-minded peers and the community you’re reaching out to for feedback and advice. Read their tweets, blogs and books, listen to their podcasts. Comment and call in. Engage them at the next networking opportunity or online.

6. Generosity. This is the flipside of #5. Share your discoveries and learnings with your peers. Do someone .. even a competitor .. a favour. You’ve made a mistake? Humility will have you admit it. Generosity will have you share it with others so that they can avoid the same pitfall. Do it in the interest of raising industry standards. In the spirit of Akoha, play it forward. Such goodwill will come back to you in spades.

7. A touch of geekiness, or at the very least a desire to learn about tech. While you can hire people to help you with the technical side of social media, a basic understanding of things like RSS, iTunes subscriptions, WordPress, sound editing and website navigation can go a long way towards helping you help your clients. If you ignore the nitty gritty and only spend time on the theoretical, you won’t feel as though you have a complete handle on the tools you’re proposing that your client leverage in his next social media campaign. You won’t appreciate their complexity, or the time and effort involved in their implementation. There’s no way around it: to sell something well, you need to understand it. Only then will you understand its potential and limitations and be in a position to intelligently counsel your clients. Go ahead. Get your hands dirty. Trust me, it’s fun.

8. Respectfulness and courteousness. No one owes you or your client anything. Apply the Golden Rule, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Need examples? End pitch-blasting. Instead, take the time to know the journalists and bloggers in your field of interest. Know what they write/talk about. Know if they’re receptive to hearing from PR consultants and, if so, know the best way to reach them. If they prefer Twitter, tweet. It also means always taking the high road. Remember that there is a human being behind each blog or newspaper article. It is your job to engage that person appropriately. A little « savoir-vivre » takes you far in life, both online and off.

9. Ability to embrace a service mentality. Journalists have high praise for PR practitioners who are effective and efficient, who serve as resources even when they’re not running campaigns and who apply the effort required to support requests and, perhaps, even anticipate them. Similarly, experienced bloggers are already pleading with PR types not to waste their time with poorly targeted pitches that clearly show that they haven’t even bothered to get to know them or their blog. A good PR practioner aims to serve both his client and the traditional or social media person he or she is working with. We need to keep our ear to the ground, do our research, know our stuff and develop and share our network even when there’s no immediate or apparent payoff.

10. Ability to embrace change. As PR practitioners, we are known as guard dogs when in reality we should be known as facilitators.  Once you’ve gotten a handle on the reality of social media, you’ll realize that our industry’s guard dog days are over. Stop deluding yourselves. Controlling the message is an outdated PR imperative which, in the real world, has officially been relegated to the past thanks in large part to the growth of social media. Don’t become an anachronism. Embrace the future.

There you have it. My first top 10 list. Anything different come to mind? I want to hear what you’d add to the mix.

PodCamp Toronto: Session 2 – Inside PR

Dave Jones and Terry Fallis are recording an Inside PR episode with Martin Waxman at PodCamp Toronto – and I’m live blogging it, so this blog post may be a more stream-of-consciousness than usual. 

Q1: What balance between traditional and rich media do you see and how do you see it evolving?

Terry: Mainstream media relations is harder and harder to generate. Fewer reporters chasing more stories. It’s harder now to get earned media challenge than it has ever been. What better time then for a new media channel to emerge? We’re still figuring out how to use it. Organisations ought to be dipping their toe in the social media waters. Companies need to find their authentic voice. Social media is a real opportunity.

Dave: It’s not a recipe I would prescribe. The strategy will drive the tactics. Be fairly agnostic with how you communicate, but use the tactics that fit best. Doesn’t mean you can’t take a risk and try a few things in the space. You definitely can’t ignore what’s happening in the social media space.

Martin: It depends. Are you going out to trade only? Are you going out for something bigger? Monitoring is the first place to start. You want to know what is being said. What is exciting is how the groundswell can be community driven (ex: Twestival). There is starting to be a big crossover between traditional and social media.

Q2: Blogger relations – where is it heading?

Martin: In the traditional model, PR people had relationships with journalists. Things have since changed. The PR industry became broadcasters, sending press releases to hundreds and hundreds of journalists. Social media is hopefully getting all communicators back to the basics. Hopefully that will be good for the reputation of the industry.

Terry: I like what’s happening in the social media space in that its transparency and authenticity is influencing how we do traditional media relations. The pitch needs to be more customized. The investment in time is more important.

Q3: How do you find companies are embracing social media? How do we deal with approvals (legal etc)?

Dave: The world has changed from the days of being able to respond in days vs minutes. The success that I’ve seen happen is when there’s some senior buy-in. In that case, they can push the mandate through. A lot of companies get religion in social media when they have a problem and realize they need to be better prepared to handle social media.

Martin: The point about PR approval is a really good one. Organizations need to protect themselves. They have liability issues. The legal department is the gatekeeper, while we’re trying to have authentic and transparent conversations.

Terry: You can win in the court of law, but lose in the court of public opinion. Clients are astonished to find critical Tweets. PR professionals can deal with them quickly and turn opinion around. Need parameters to respond and engage in the conversation.

Q: Is the social media press release dead?

Dave: I’m a bit of a crank on this one. I’ve always looked at a social media press release not as an evolution or bright light, but as an online electronic press kit. We used to send them out on CDs. It is a place to put multimedia content around a client’s traditional static text press release. It is just content. Used as a blogger relations headquarters. Is an easy place to point people to get content. You’re much better using these sorts of things as things that live and breathe as opposed to one-off press releases. Configure it so you can add to the future as new content emerges.

Terry: I would add that in the social media press release, they started to put quotations as a separate part of the press release.

Martin: I don’t think the news release is dead. The social media news release is the same thing, just with better and added functionality.

Q: Reputation and PR companies. Is it time that PR had a regulatory body?

Martin: I’m a CPRS accreditation coach, so I’m a big proponent of accreditation. It will hopefully give the industry more professionalism.

Q: Future of print media

Dave: I think the economic model for media has changed. That is what’s killing them. The need for news isn’t changing. The financial situation around print media, the costs of production, delivery, of writers, is a problem. Much as it is in the music industry. It’s not news and the need for news that will change. Consumer generated news won’t replace professional journalism, but professional journalism will change significiantly.