Who Do You Trust with Your Client’s Biggest News?

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Rolodex Filled with Business CardsDespite all of my love for social media, digital communications, community engagement etc., something that is beginning to particularly strike me as a clear fact of 21st-century PR is that yes, media relationships do matter. A whole lot. And dare I say it? It does matter who you know. More importantly, how well you know/trust them.

Let me put this into a bit more perspective: Say you’re working on a pretty time sensitive client announcement that has a lot of moving parts (e.g. 2-3 parties involved with multiple executives/personalities and many different times zones), which requires you to be both confidential with how closely you hold the client announcement/information and also proactive enough so you obtain the desired outcome from the announcement with a little extra audience reaction thrown in from a good pre-announcement story or two. That’s going to A) require you to be on your toes and ready for anything; and B) Most likely require you to know exactly who you want to go to with this information, and more importantly, who will keep it quiet until everything is finalized.

“But,” you say, “you can’t do that! Companies no longer own their information or announcements, nor do they even own their own brand!”

Well . . . yes and no. Do they have total control over their brand like they did, say 20 years ago? Hell no. But is society at the point now where anybody—you, me, your neighbor—“owns” some piece of the brand in the virtual world? I’d still argue we’re not quite there and we will never be there. And I’d argue even more fervently that as communications and public relations professionals—the very consultants companies rightfully hire to help protect their brands and company reputations—we shouldn’t always be so quick to convince our clients it’s time to “give their brand up” to their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. audiences.

Because sometimes, the masses, even if they represent a company’s perfect vertical audience, don’t always get the story right, and if we’re so willing to freely give a major announcement away before it’s been fully fleshed out and signed, sealed and delivered, we—PR professionals—risk not only our reputations, but also those of our clients, and ultimately, the sustainability of their businesses.

Getting back to why it does still matter (some . . . some) who you know and how well you know them in the PR world; even with PR 2.0, which I consider myself a practitioner of, you still need to be sure you are certain a brand advocate is trustworthy enough to spread the correct news/announcement/messages to your company’s digital and social media audiences. After all, they (most likely) don’t have editors with a professional obligation to oversee the authenticity and accuracy of their work. (Let’s not get into the whole reporter versus blogger issue for now … different discussion for a different day.)

Ultimately, when push comes to shove in this business, and a client or your boss has asked you to spread the word about some big company news, it’s going to come down to who do you trust? Whether that’s a terrific industry blogger with a great, fervent following, or a mainstream reporter, we all have to make that decision based off our experience and how much risk we’re willing to take. But we shouldn’t be so quick to say we can always trust the brands’ fans and advocates. Would you trust your biggest personal news with your Twitter followers before it’s official?

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  • jeffespo

    Keith, this is a great question. I would agree that crowd-sourcing is a great tool, but at the same time a reporter's commentary in the WSJ or NYT gives the news instant credibility that SM cannot – unless you are a tech company.

    It is also often trusted more readily than by folks Tweeting out news that may or may not be linked to a hard article. SM is great for news, but we've all been burned. This is something we wouldn't want to wish on our company/client.

  • keithtrivitt

    It's certainly an interesting thought, and thanks for chiming in, Jeff. I'm all for social media and the opportunities it opens up for companies, consumers, brand advocates, etc. But where it gets really difficult, IMO, is how far down the road of outreach to brand advocates do we, as communications professionals go?

    I think what will be interesting in the coming years is to see really how much social media and traditional PR are blended together, and more to that, how much clients are willing to go with one versus the other. It's one of the reasons why I struggle myself with trying to figure out the whole silo approach to PR and marketing, and which may be better because I honestly think there are strong arguments for going with a silo approach to traditional media vs. social media PR, and I think there are arguments against a silo approach.

    The fact of the matter is that there are only so many hours in a day and so many resources to go around. For the average PR account of say 4-7 team members for one client, blending traditional with social media PR will work quite well, but for the much smaller agencies, or even the solo consultants, it often comes down to 1) Who do you know best in the industry? 2) Who do you trust with your client's big news? 3) Who do you know that will quickly, efficiently and influentially get that news out to the right audiences?

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