Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tools of the trade

When I started in tech PR 10 years ago, you did most of your real pitching to reporters on the phone. There were magazines that mattered like the Industry Standard, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and Fast Company and it was all about getting in the print edition because the online world didn't matter.

Today, when PR people talk about bloggers or social media they say, "It's about creating relationships."

That's tripe. It's always been about creating relationships. What's different is that the tools of the trade have changed and technology has changed how the people receiving the message get the message.

The first part of how delivering the message has changed is obvious. Ten years ago, if you had a good story, you called a reporter on the phone and delivered a pitch tailored to their ears. But they published once a week. It would take an enterprising PR flack an hour to two to skim the reporter's last 10 stories and have an good idea about what that reporter covered over the last three months. Today, bloggers can knock out that many stories in a couple of weeks.
Becasue publishing is easier, we have more people with smaller microphones. As a result, today's media is delivering a smaller and more fragmented audience, like the transition from network television to 800 niche cable channels.

With more people writing more stories, developing relationships is statiscally more difficult and professionally more important. Because reporters and bloggers are under tighter deadlines, they rely on PR folks they trust to provide a comment right away.

The second change and the one that has changed how PR works is the rise of the consumer Internet. Corporate Web sites and search engines have greatly changed how end users gather information. Many businesses no longer need a middle man to deliver the message, they can do it themselves, forcing a fundamental shift in PR and marketing.

While newspapers and magazines deliver a targeted and known audience, really interested buyers will have searched the Web for info on purchases. They come into the buying mode with some idea of the products on the market, but look to media, new and old, to help in the reviews processes. It's a paradigm change from waiting for media to push stories to end users and having that drive sales.

What does this mean for PR people? Answer: we are all going to become marketers. Phone skills will fade, writing will rise and SEO will be ever more important. The kids coming out of school today will become multi-talented. They will be able to write, take still pictures and edit video. There will be, and there are specialists for all of these tasks, but those who use to specialize in PR will find ourselves more tightly aligned with the marketing department.

Bet on it.

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