Here’s the reality of public relations that no one in our industry is talking about, but we should be. While the media has changed from a print mechanism to a mobile multimedia environment, PR remains stuck in the 20th century. As consumers, we want our news on demand, and in turn demand that credible journalists give it to us immediately. And we don’t just want written stories – we want video, audio, live feeds, in living color. We’d also prefer it digested into cool headlines, in 140 characters, in 6-second vines and matching quizzes. Now, journalists need all these tools of the trade and more. And how do PR pros reach them?
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Editor’s Note: Dr. David K. Rehr is moderating the panel “Getting Heard in Washington: Communication Strategies That Work,” with featured guests Anna Palmer, senior reporter/columnist, Politico and Jeffrey Davis, senior vice president, AARP at the PRSA 2014 International Conference on Monday, Oct. 13, from 10–11:15 a.m. The following is a guest post previewing their session.
What kind of communication is received on Capitol Hill?
Imagine you work on Capitol Hill, either as an elected member of Congress or as a congressional staffer. Every day, literally tens of thousands of constituents, special interest groups, non-profit organizations, private business interests, embassy representatives or academic experts send you messages to impact your decision-making on public policy issues being considered in the U.S. Congress.
Hurricane Isaac was coming ashore. The Weather Channel and CNN dispatched their correspondent to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, tethered to a $65,000 HD Camera and a half-million dollar satellite truck. Meanwhile, the anchors back in the studio conducted a series of phone interviews with Emergency Managers and Public Information Officers (PIO) in the path of the hurricane.
So why is it, with the wealth of official knowledge available during storm coverage, the news networks suddenly cut away to interview a seemingly random resident, standing in rising flood waters at his home along Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana?
The pace of change is accelerating … you’d have to live under a rock not to notice that this theme is repeatedly resonating in the sessions at the PRSA International Conference. What was interesting about this session analyzing analog versus digital media and moderated by Henry P. Feintuch, president of Feintuch Communications, and Susan Dingenthal, new media consultant for Sandusky Radio, was the varying experiences of the participants who attended.
After a discussion of the timeline of the decline of newspapers and their valiant effort to fight back with blogs and online content, Henry Feintuch categorized the print media’s response as, “they are fumbling, experimenting.”
Those involved in responding to the Virginia Tech incident reported more than 1000 reporters were on scene. Add to that number the tens of thousands of bloggers, passersby with cell cameras and individuals commenting on news sites who are part of the new army of “citizen journalists.”
For any large and powerful organization, building and maintaining trust has never been so challenging. Most news is now conveyed in the form of a melodrama, with a black hat, a white hat, and some form of the public good (health, safety, environmental harm) serving as the maiden in distress. If you are being accused of putting the public at risk in some way, guess which hat you get to wear when the story is told? The blame game must be played — there is no way out.
So how can trust be built in this kind of negative environment? Remember the three drivers of the instant news world: speed, direct communication and transparency.
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