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Both the PR and media world have undergone great changes since I first got started in the field in the mid 1990s. When I first started off as a reporter, I spent several hours learning how to use the flywheel to resize photos. And just when I had that figured out, along came Photoshop, which made all that knowledge useless.
Today, change seems to be happening at lightning-fast speed. The advent of social media and the rapid demise of the print media have caused huge strains on PR practioners, who have to keep up with these developments. I am a technophile, but even I admit that sometimes it gets exhausting trying to keep up with the latest press release platform, social media fad or cell phone app.
Having said that, here are a few things that all PR rookies (and some old pros) need to be doing:
- Get a smart phone. I am a BlackBerry person myself, and I find the device to be essential to my work. A smart phone is invaluable if you are out in the field. Smart phones allow you to keep up with your email while on the go, keep your contacts with you at all times and catch up with important reading while you are mobile. The downside is that you are always available, which can be a positive and a negative.
- Be open to writing your own material. With many publications cut to the bone, many editors are asking PR professionals to write content, so you need to keep your writing skills fresh.
- Use the cloud. In PR, you are only as good as your contacts, and most experienced professionals guard their contact list jealously. I remember a former colleague who was distraught when her laptop crashed, losing all of her contacts. You should also save all your important information on the Internet or to an external hard drive. You can use Google documents to save important documents and you can back up your contacts to a Google address book, which syncs with Outlook. It’s not a good idea to save all your information on your company-owned laptop, because when you part ways with the firm, they will want their equipment back — along with all the information you saved on it.
- Get hip to social media. Social media is a task that is increasingly falling into the laps of PR professionals. You have to be conversant with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the host of other sites out there. I use Ping.fm to update multiple social media sites at once. In many cases you may be asked to advise clients on how to form a strategy to use these sites.
- Create a Google alert for your client. This is a great way of tracking what people are saying about your client online, and it also keeps tab on when stories about your client run. Your client will love it when you are the first to send him that story that ran in The New York Times.
- Develop your media contacts. It goes without saying that you need to develop a network of contacts in the media. You can do this by studying the media your client is trying to target. Create a Google alert that will send you stories about a certain industry and that way you can become familiar with the writers covering those beats. One way to develop a rapport is by sending them a note telling them that you really liked one of their articles. Another way is by offering comments to writers who post queries on Peter Shankman’s Helping Out a Reporter (HARO).
- Subscribe to query generating sites such as HARO, Pitchrate, Reporter Connection and Newsbasis. HARO, particularly, is a great source of media placement.
- Make friends in the industry. There are several groups that provide great networking opportunities for public relations such as PRSA and IABC. If you can’t attend these meetings there are many online networking groups. Here are some of the ones I use.
- The National Association of Black Journalists associates list serve. This list serve was created a few years ago to focus on NABJ members who worked in the PR field. I have found it to be a great source of information and contacts. I have also used it to call in favors when I am in a bind.
- The Young PR Pros list serve. This list serve has about 5,000 members and is targeted at entry to mid-level PR practioners. It is a great source of contacts, PR tips and PR jobs.
- Help A PR Pro Out (HAPPO). HAPPO started in February as a Twitter movement to help the many young PR professionals who were out of work. You can follow the conversations by using the Twitter hashtag #HAPPO. It is another great source of job leads and media contacts.
These are a just a few ideas that I have collected in more than 15 years in the media business. But, the most important lesson is you have to keep learning. The march of technology is inevitable, and it seems that just when you figure out one process, it becomes obsolete. PR professionals have to keep up with technology and the changing media, or we will end up going the way of the dinosaurs.
Manny Otiko, vice president of social and new media at Desmond & Louis PR, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for Southern California public relations agencies, Dameron Communications, Tobin and Associates and WunderMarx PR.
Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Men’s Health.
Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the Orange County chapter of PRSA, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.
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