The PR Education Revolution

The Hat Toss
(CC) flickr // andrew_j_w

The very smart Heather Whaling asked on her blog Wednesday whether social media begets mainstream coverage. Now, for me, that gets my attention, because a) it’s totally up the alley of my passion within the PR business (namely, the integration of traditional PR and social media PR; and b) it’s a question that I think we are going to start asking ourselves a lot more in the coming months.

A quick summary of Heather’s points follow:

  • Despite ample evidence that securing a mention/write-up on a well-read and influential blog (even a small, niche blog) can indeed generate mainstream media coverage, many PR pros still view blogger relations and outreach as an afterthought. In fact, blogger relations should start being viewed as an equal, if not greater, priority than your top-tier outreach.
  • A company’s online and social media presence (or lack thereof) is quickly becoming a precursor to the amount, scope and quality of both traditional and online media coverage that a company receives. The higher quality of an online presence a company has (corporate blog, Wikipedia entry, Twitter feed, comments on other relevant blogs, etc.), the greater likelihood of an overworked reporter/blogger finding that company and using as a source for a piece.

A strong online presence—both from your own corporate site, as well as within other relevant sites and social networks—is certainly going to help businesses be seen and heard by reporters and bloggers who are doing research through various search engines. I think the interesting idea going forward (and one that, personally, I would love to explore more) is to completely throw the whole PR educational system on its head by drastically underscoring the teachings of the traditional outreach methods (which, from my experience, are quite out-dated and out of touch with the current PR/media scene), and instead, focus more on how a company’s online presence affects every part of its media exposure.

What I’m proposing here is an idea of dropping the whole traditional PR education, and creating a more balanced “communicator” education program (Note: that’s not communications, which I think is slightly different in this context). Because to me, that’s really what we are now, and when we start to buy into that and truly understand our role as a communicator of a company’s or brand’s core business and consumer values, I think we will have a much easier time getting over the jitters about blogger outreach and what role online communications plays in the company’s overall media exposure.

Once you accomplish that, a whole new world of media opportunities will open up for you, IMO. Reporters, bloggers and other online media will begin to find you, your comments, services, products and expertise through a constantly growing stream of social sites, and from there, opportunities for continued media outreach will hopefully abound. At least, that’s what I would love to see happen.

What would happen if we threw the traditional PR/comms educational system on its head and maybe created a program more aligned with what I (or you) suggest? Would we accomplish our goal of becoming better 21st Century PR practitioners, or would this actually take us back?

*It should be noted that there are a few universities out there that are already overhauling their PR educational programs to incorporate a more integrated traditional/social media curriculum. See the University of Chicago’s new social media course as an example.

[recent posts]