By Robert Wynne, Contributor
Everyone knows the Internet has transformed the media. It altered the news delivery system, zapped our eyeballs with blinking lights and radiation, and ushered audiences from print to online to social media on the way to mobile. Without the Internet, we wouldn’t know the real-time movements of D-list reality stars (thanks a lot, TMZ) or see the opinions of our many friends, enemies and strangers via tweets, message boards, vines and posts.
Even prestigious, intelligent media like Forbes, the New Yorker, Popular Science, National Geographic and others with content written by professionals and edited by trained journalists have been altered forever. The 24-7 competitive media means the news is often faster, but not fact-checked nearly as much. Opinions and comments appear much more frequently and instantaneously.
Public relations, the art of influencing the masses through the media or communicating to internal or external audiences, had to evolve merely to survive. The big disruption has already taken place. These revolutions have been explained quite well by dozens of books and thousands of magazine articles online, and some in large type books for older folks. These are the five ways the Internet has changed public relations.
1. Conversations. The old top-down model, where publicists had to reach reporters to create a story in the media still exists, but it’s not exclusive. In theory, anyone can bypass journalists to address an audience. Posts from Leveon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers or actor Gwyneth Paltrow don’t need a megaphone. But since anyone can post and everyone does, most social media is useless. When stories do reach the mainstream press, social media serves as a great amplifier as many people share news and add comments.
2. Crisis Media. Now it’s online, faster, often more powerful — for good and bad — depending on your perspective. For product recalls or dangerous products, social media allows audiences to organize without filters. For the PR staff of Bill Cosby, the viral video of Hannibal Buress created waves of bad news that washed out Cosby’s reputation. PR pros must monitor social media platforms and respond to crises in seconds or minutes rather than hours.
3. Reaching and researching journalists. This is a real benefit to publicists, communications professionals and the general public. (Not so much for reporters.) It is much easier to find reporters, producers and editors via their own websites, search engines and paid services like Vocus VOCS +%, Cision, Meltwater and others.
4. More exciting press releases. In the Digital Age, text only press releases and pitches can still score if the copy is very well-written and relevant. Investors reading the latest financials, or employees learning about internal company news, need more steak than sizzle. However, in a crowded marketplace with less journalists and more publicists, often good video, photos and graphics enhance the pitch.
5. Easier Content Creation. The old Michelin genius idea to create a restaurant guide (content marketing) is much easier now on the web. Some digital “news” websites are fantastic and will enhance the brand, but many are written by committee and are boring, self-serving and lazy. Even with these seismic changes, technology can be overrated. If you are the only publicist or corporation on Twitter, Google or Instagram or Vine, that’s an insurmountably huge advantage. Congratulations Mr. Gates-Apple-Buffet-Branson, you win! But if everyone has the same tools, it’s a level playing field. That’s why books on “New” models of PR and marketing can be obsolete before they are printed. It’s not just the medium – it’s the message.
Unless you have “old school” talents like writing, charm, great contacts and/or incredibly interesting clients, tweeting from your Apple iPhone 6 while sipping lattes in Brooklyn to your buddies in Austin and West Hollywood while sending Instagrams and Vines are as substantial as the cinnamon spice floating on the soy foam.
Here are Five Ways the Internet Has Not Changed Public Relations.
1. You still need a Story. Cute cat videos and trendy porkpie hats are fabulous for getting attention. Post that stuff and you will get tons of likes but you won’t convince anyone about anything. Good publicists do two things extremely well – sift through all the story possibilities like a miner finding the platinum vein; then communicating the value of the gem in as few words as possible to the right audience.
2. You must be able to write. There are millions of blogs. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it still make a sound? If you write a blog in the wilderness and no one reads it, does it make an impact? Badly written blogs and posts are as common as reality-TV stars, and just as worthless. Have a point. Get to the point.
3. You need contacts. Forget Twitter followers and FB friends. You need Influencers. Nine out of 10 times, that means reporters. Brad Pitt or Sheryl Sandberg isn’t wearing your clients’ jeans or sunglasses or representing your charity and taking photos with your client because you met them at a party and had a “good vibe.” Sometimes, a great story or great writing (see above) can net you a fantastic article in the media. But it never hurts to meet reporters in person at networking events. If a journalist gets 100-300 emails per day, what’s going to make her open yours?.
4. You still need a good client or cause. Every PR firm or internal PR professional loves their clients. Our clients are the best of the best, of course. But sometimes, a client may not have a compelling story or may be on the defensive, which makes your job much more difficult. (But that’s why crisis PR pays so well.)
5. People skills. Enthusiasm, kindness, respect, and knowing how to pitch and respond in a professional manner will never go out of style.