Retooling the Public Relations Industry

In the last few weeks, thanks to my boss Katherine Fletcher, I’ve had the opportunity to take some really interesting meetings with some new hires to the FH Digital Practice.

The Future is Bright; The Future is Digital

I hope I’m not giving away the farm when I say that Digital is a big focus for the Fleishman-Hillard ringmasters over the next few years. Our CEO, Dave Senay is blogging behind the firewall, and the disparate digital practices are being aligned to take advantage of some very impressive growth and meet some equally intimidating targets.

One of the biggest problems for a relatively large (2,600 employee) firm such as ours is to make sure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. It’s all well and good for the powers that be to tell everyone “digital matters”; it’s another thing entirely for a VP with years of experience and tonnes of awards in the bank to talk to a client about something they know very little about.

[Re] Education

As a result, one of the questions we were debating was how to educate, or in some places, re-educate, our staff as to the importance of digital communications.

To use a manufacturing metaphor, we need to completely retool our factory with the latest machinery to take advantage of new trends. At FH, we no longer just make “media relations”; we make “digital” as well. And digital needs a completely different set of tools.

Cleverer people than me have had some great ideas for modules, for courses, for how to best engage staff across the globe but I think this is the wrong way to go.

I think the problem, if you can call it that, lies deeper than simply giving people more information to learn and repeat back. We need to engage our (internal) audience on the “why” not the “how”.

I think any educational programme in Public Relations (or marketing in general) has to address two key issues.

1. Why search is king

2. Why self published media is just as important as “big media”

An Informational Seachange

The public has changed the way it gets its information so the public relations industry needs to change accordingly.

The old perception was that people would read, watch or hear something through the media and, because it was a trusted source, would be compelled to act on it. Sure there was some “leakage” and not everyone would go from newspaper to store or from the living room to the picket line but enough people would to justify the PR spend for the year.

Then the Interweb came along and changed things a little bit, but not too much as the same trusted sources from offline, simply went online. Now you could get the same information served up on demand at work or at home – the difference is that all those articles you were reading now come from all over the world – not just from your small corner of it.

Now there was a whole hell of a lot of information to be filtered through before you could find what you wanted. You couldn’t find what you wanted by yourself so you turned to places that aggregated, ranked and filtered all the information you were after. 

Now being on the front page of Google, Yahoo! or search engines in general was more important than being on the front page of The Globe & Mail or the Financial Times.

That’s the first change.

Track the Conversations

Another perception was that people, your clients’ audiences, trusted “people like them” as sources of information. The only problem was that we, as marketers, had no real way of working out who was, in a particular market, influential regarding certain niche “verticals” such as cooking, business intelligence and health matters.

Which is why Sean and BzzAgent are making so much money.

Now, thanks to social media, these influencers are self-identifying themselves to us. Self-publishing = self-identifiers. These influencers are not only self-identifying through blogging and podcasting but they are also growing their sphere of influence.

New Game; New Rules

So now we have a completely new game. One where the aggregators (search engines) are more important that the things they aggregate and where the most influential people are putting up huge signs to let us know where they are.

Whatever approach we at FH take to educate our most valuable resources (our employees) about he new media landscape, our basic philosophy should be this:

There’s a new game; these are the new rules. We’re going to teach you how to play, now have at it.

4 Responses to Retooling the Public Relations Industry

  1. Kyle says:

    Content remains king, but the digital community is now the true audience. Sounds like exciting times at FH.


  2. […] Retooling the Public Relations Industry, Ed Lee/BloggingMeBloggingYou. Ed makes some great points in the changing ways we receive information and the change our industries needs. However, IMO, print and broadcast will still be major players for many years to come (especially magazines). […]

  3. Damon says:

    With the news of surging online communities always making headlines, I thought it might be interesting to give some quick insight on how the whole movement first came about. As some may say, “Let’s take it back to the old school”.

    If ASCII graphics, IRC, Usenet and dial up modems ring a bell, you were likely part of the very first generation of online/virtual communities. The term “virtual community” was dubbed by a book with that very title by Howard Rheingold originally published in 1993. The book spoke about some of the very first online communities, the technologies implemented to facilitate them and their potential effects on society. Most of these first online communities were very structured and community centric with message boards and chat rooms as the primary means of communication.

    Fast forwarding to present day, you now have hundreds of millions of users worldwide part of various online communities ranging market leaders such Facebook (17 million users as of February 2007) and MySpace (108 million accounts as of September 2006) to small local online communities discussing niche interests.

    After personally being a part of online communities for nearly 12 years, it’s been amazing to see how far everything has gone with the implementation of so many Web 2.0 technologies. The concept of developing pair bond through commonality has never been so accessible to people worldwide. Everyday, hundreds of millions of people connect with one another whether it be through blogs and instant messaging or through new media based communities such as Flickr and Youtube.

    Do you remember what was the first online community you joined? Post your comments. For those who have recently joined their first community, welcome to the mayhem!

  4. LF says:

    I think it’s interesting to see how “Web 2.0” has changed the way marketing and PR professionals approach their campaigns. Now, even the most conservative client/company will consider revamping their website to allow programs such as Digg and to track their pages. My own company even recently added videos and we’re looking at podcasts.

    It’s even moved into politics, every candidate for President this year already has a myspace and facebook page (or multiple) and their websites are full of podcasts, video feeds and blogs.

    It’s hard not to get overwhelmed with information, but it’s also exciting that so much is out there for our use, and consumption.

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