Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
September 9, 2009

PR Does Not Stand for Press Release: Equalizing Spikes and Valleys (Part I)

Every now and again, a public relations meme appears on the Web — almost to the point where you could set your watch by it. This time around, Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times sparked the conversation with an in-depth article, “Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley.”

I respect Claire, and I believe she wrote an extensive article that chronicles the launch of one particular startup and also featured supporting quotes from those public relations professionals who are helping to usher in a new breed of corporate communications.

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While an exposé makes for an interesting read, public relations is undergoing a much more significant renaissance that receives almost zero attention in this article. P.R. in Silicon Valley is far more sophisticated and effective than what’s actually spotlighted in the story, and it’s much more potent than most entrepreneurs, investors and executives realize.

For those truly seeking answers and guidance in regard to the new landscape of public relations and influence, please consider my new book with Deirdre Breakenridge, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.” There’s a reason we spent an entire year writing it. Anyone practicing communications, marketing, public relations, advertising, branding, or making sales and marketing decisions on behalf of any company would be remiss not to have read and shared this book. It is the most comprehensive, accurate and practical resource on the subject of PR 2.0 and how the social Web has transformed the world of communications, word of mouth and authority. And it will be relevant and poignant for years to come.

I met with Claire a few weeks ago while she was working on this article, and to be honest, the elements that surfaced in our conversation offered far more value, insight and direction for both public relations practitioners as well as company executives seeking to rise above the noise in traditional and social media. Perhaps it’s merely shelved for a future article, but unfortunately, now’s the time to place the focus on what works, what’s changing and how to contribute to the (r)evolution instead of simply talking around it. As my quote in the New York Times alludes, public relations is much more than what most think it is. While it’s clever, even the headline of the Times article suggests “spin” in the era of the Web. But as my book highlights, and as discussed with Claire, what’s going on right now is so much more important than what public relations used to be — even though it’s still practiced today. This is about putting the public back in public relations, nothing less, nothing more.

“ ‘In response to dissatisfied clients and huge shifts in the media landscape, a new breed of publicist is emerging,’ says Brian D. Solis, a PR guy who writes a blog called PR 2.0. His firm, FutureWorks, has a broad definition of “writer,” a category that includes those in mainstream media as well as the tens of thousands of bloggers and Twitter users who have developed avid followings by writing about niche topics.”

“ ‘Mommy bloggers are the new TechCrunch; they’re such an influential crowd, ’ Mr. Solis says.” Actually, what I said was that Mommy Bloggers are becoming as important to brands as TechCrunch is to tech companies.

Instead of calculating the impressions an article gets by estimating a publication’s circulation and pass-along rate, Mr. Solis counts the number of people who tweeted about a company and their combined following, the number of retweets or clicks on links, as well as traffic from Facebook and other social networks.  

Picture this … the few paragraphs above are merely a snapshot that represent only a few minutes from a fascinating dialogue that spanned over the course of one-and-a-half hours.

 As the New York Times article leads you to believe, everything in public relations focuses on the launch or a news event. However, the launch vehicles, mouthpieces and corresponding opportunities have changed and extended thanks to the socialization of media. But what hasn’t changed is the process of connecting information to people seeking it; when, where and how they ask questions, learn and communicate. The only difference is that the tools and the people involved in the decision making process have augmented. Therefore, we as “experts” must compensate for rapid evolution and first determine where we need to be today, tomorrow and next month, and then reverse engineer the processes, languages and channels of influence in order to effectively reach influencers, peers and customers, where, when and how to connect — tapping into individual instances where they seek information, offer advice and share the things that move them.

We must become the very people we’re trying to reach …

Herein lies the problem with public relations. It is, at the very least, misunderstood, underestimated, misused, and most importantly, underappreciated. And the article only perpetuates the notion that public relations is an instrument for pushing “news,” when what we’re actually purporting now is the reality that public relations offers so much more.

PR does not stand for press release, yet it is only valued or consulted when news is imminent. Therefore, the press release has become the “go to” tool for telling company stories when it has something say.

PR is not spin. The difference between public relations of yesteryear and public relations of today and tomorrow is our ability to understand the pains and challenges of our customers, and connect our value proposition to those specifically looking for it, where they’re looking for it. Our job is not to deceive or mislead stakeholders. Our job is to establish an interactive channel where we share and learn, directly participating within the markets that define our business. And we not only engage, but we also listen to and absorb feedback in order to have a meaningful impact internally that ultimately engenders a more customer-focused organization that’s in tune with the needs of valuable users.

PR is not publicity. The idea that news is the focal point of public relations is shortsighted, and the notion that we’re purely publicists is insulting. There’s a difference between getting people to write about your company or product and building a market around it. In the era of socialized media, you should concentrate on the latter. Please note, there’s a stark contrast between the role and associated qualifications and experience of a publicist and someone in public relations. You may need both, but they’re rarely one in the same … and that’s the point of this post.

PR stands for public relations, and therefore begets relationships with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend the story, intentions, value and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities and empowering advocates over time.

The type of public relations described in the New York Times assumes a standard launch strategy tied to a one-time event supported by the tactics of distributing the official press release or related information. In this case, only the players involved and the channels they use represent the recognition and incorporation of new media influence. However, the goals were similar to that of traditional publicity: create a big launch, generate a ton of visibility, drive traffic and spark word-of-mouth.

The only problem is that activity always diminishes if communications doesn’t shift into the next gear to extend visibility and interaction.

The true value of new public relations is to do all of these things, but also build communities of power users who will extend the story across multiple networks in order to reduce the delta between the spike of launch activity and the valley below once traffic subsides.

This is public relations and the foundation for a new era of direct to consumer (D2C) influence — one where WE become influential in the process of creating visibility, and also supporting activity. It’s now our job to build and grow communities, and therefore we can no longer hide behind the brands we represent.

Brian SolisBrian Solis is the principal of FutureWorks, an online public relations/communications firm he founded in 1999. He is a co-founder of the Social Media Club, a national organization that convenes events for the purpose of sharing best practices, establishing standards and promoting social media literacy. He is an original member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup and also contributes to the Social Media Collective. He recently co-authored “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” (March 2009 FT Press). Connect with Brian on Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Plurk,, BackType or on Facebook.

Join Brian at the Meet the Experts  networking session and “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations in PR” co-author, Deidre Breakenridge, along with Joseph Jaffe, Juliette Powell and Ariel Hyatt, for the panel discussion, “Social Media and the PR (R)Evolution: It’s Not Just PR Anymore,” at the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, November 7-10 in San Diego, CA!

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