There’s No Such Thing As “Traditional PR” Anymore


Ask any long-time PR pro who is hesitant to integrate digital into the communications mix what their focus is, and many times the answer comes back “traditional PR.”

Fair enough. So what types of activities make up traditional PR, you may ask.  The answer usually includes some combination of the following:

  • Message development
  • Media relations
  • Crisis communications
  • Employee communications
  • Executive visibility

While those are certainly tried and true tactics that have been pillars of the PR industry for years, to execute on those tactics without integrating digital is missing a major opportunity to leverage today’s converged communications landscape.

Here’s a look at how digital should be integrated into each of these long-time PR functions:

Message Development

Crafting messages today means more than just a list of talking points to arm a company spokesperson. Brands today have to speak the language of their audience, and that means aligning with the audience’s search patterns too. In order to create messages that are truly authentic and discoverable, using Google Trends should always be part of the message development process.

The example below uses Google Trends to show the difference in search volume between “running shoe” and “athletic footwear” in the United States during the past 12 months. Although these two concepts are similar, it’s clear “running shoe” dominates in search volume and therefore would make more sense as part of a key message versus “athletic footwear.” Google Trends also comes back with a list of related terms with high search volume, which can spark additional ideas for consideration in message development, beyond what may already be on the list.


Media Relations

For years, PR pros have agreed the best way to create effective media pitches is to read reporters’ stories to get to know their subject matter, tone and audience and then customize and personalize pitches accordingly based on that information. Now with the explosion of social media and nearly every reporter worldwide having a presence on Twitter, PR teams should be including reporters’ Twitter handles on their media lists and monitoring their social media presence on an ongoing basis to gain invaluable intel to make pitches as relevant and personal as possible.

In addition, the emergence of digital platforms as revenue-generators for media outlets has given reporters a new perspective on what some are calling “page view journalism” … meaning crafting story ideas and pitches with the goal of helping reporters drive more traffic, engagement and sharing around their stories will lead to a better success rate.

Crisis Communications

It’s interesting to think as recently as 4-5 years ago, brands used to consider having to respond to a crisis within a day or two to be a massive fire drill. In today’s digital age, a crisis can spread globally online within minutes, and failing to prepare for an equally swift response can lead to devastating results. Some critical strategies for crisis response in the digital age include:

  • Actively monitoring all brand channels plus the entire digital space for mentions of the brand that could spark a crisis in order to engage as early as possible
  • Building a dark site to have ready to deploy in the face of a crisis
  • Shutting down all paid social media content, digital ads and pre-scheduled social media posts during the crisis
  • Acknowledging and responding on social media channels as soon as possible, even just to say you’re aware of the issue and looking into it
  • Once a response is approved and ready, seed it and tag it in the medium where the crisis originated in order to ensure the response is seen in the same place where people will search for the original issue (FedEx did an amazing job of this)
  • After posting a response and once the crisis has subsided, increase the volume of posts on all social media channels for a few days in order to push the negative content down on the channels

Employee Communications

In an age where nearly everyone has a smartphone to capture content and more than a billion people can use Facebook as a platform to publish that content, everyone is now essentially a spokesperson whether they like it or not. An employee’s remarks at an event, posts on Facebook or Twitter or comments in a forum can all make news, good or bad. Savvy PR teams are rolling out policies and processes to enable employees to communicate news about the brand consistently and accurately in order to amplify key messages and minimize risk. A few key tactics include:

  • Creating and distributing social media guidelines for employees
  • Crafting and distributing conversation guides around all key brand news, giving employees an easily digestible and shareable way to leverage important news
  • Conducting in-person social media training sessions with all employees

Executive Visibility

It’s amusing to hear “our CEO doesn’t have time” as an excuse for brands not pushing their leaders to engage directly with customers through social media. Somehow the founder of a business empire (Richard Branson), the president of a major media organization (Arianna Huffington), the President of the United States (Barack Obama) and even Pope Benedict XVI all have an active presence on Twitter, along with countless other high-profile leaders. Many of these same leaders have also leveraged LinkedIn’s thought leadership platform as another way to raise their visibility through a popular social media channel.

But the benefits go beyond increased engagement and visibility. A recent survey published by eMarketer listed a number of business benefits for companies with executives active in social media:

  • 77 percent of respondents said they are more likely or much more likely to purchase a product from a company if its higher-ups are tweeting
  • 78 percent believe CEOs participating on social media leads to better communication
  • 71 percent believe it improves brand image
  • 64 percent believe it offers more transparency
  • 82 percent of employees responding to the survey say they trust a company more if the C-level and other leadership tweets

As the world of communications continues to evolve and the convergence of earned, shared, owned and paid media drives a new level of engagement, it’s time to broaden beyond “traditional PR” and take an integrated approach to be most effective.

6 thoughts on “There’s No Such Thing As “Traditional PR” Anymore

  1. Oh my favorite subject! Someone just said to me the other day, “Are there any PR pros who still only do traditional stuff?” Uh…I spoke at a PR conference in November. There were 1,500 people there. I had them raise their hands if they did more than traditional PR. Three people raised their hands. Three.

    A few comments:
    * On the media relations section and including journalist’s Twitter handles both in your pitching and in your research, I’d add bloggers to that list. You would not believe the horrible pitches I get from PR pros who clearly have never read Spin Sucks or have started a relationship with me. It makes me exclaim, “I hate PR people!” and I am one!
    * A great example of what not to do in crisis is to look at Applebee’s from this past weekend. Oy.
    * The executive visibility one makes me laugh. You’re right…there are plenty of leaders who have a social presence. I think the issue is in how it’s presented. If a leader can’t see the value of it, they’re not going to make time for it.

  2. Totally agree – you need to be digital to get ahead! Having only been in PR for a few years now, digital has been apart of everything I’ve done since day one. This “traditional PR” is what I hear my dad and older PR pros talk about – taking journalists to lunch, having lead time to educate them on the news announcement, etc. We have so much information at our finger tips that we need to start using more. Though once everyone is on board, it becomes “traditional” again, so what’s next?

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