What Are the Building Blocks of a Modern-Day PR Campaign?

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Presenting the NEW Face of Public Relations

After 21 years in the PR business, it has become increasingly apparent to me that it’s time to drive a new milepost into the ground.

While the media has been specializing in reinventing itself every few business quarters, the business of marketing has been slowly evolving, trying to keep up with the changes. Regular readers of this column have seen some phrases making repeat appearances, such as social media, email blasts, online news outlets and other terms that refer to some of the technological advances that have hit modern marketing communications. As each of these new areas of outreach emerges, our tactics as PR strategists are changing with the times.

Well, those changes have become a full-fledged evolution into a completely new paradigm, so I think it’s time we go back to the basics and spell out the new fundamentals of the modern-day PR campaign.

But let’s not start off with where things are going, but rather, where we started. Public relations began as an activity in which PR professionals leveraged free media opportunities on TV, radio and print in order to reach consumer and business-to-business audiences on behalf of their clients. In the early days, there were just a few outlets that commanded the lion’s share of consumer and business eyeballs. However, in today’s world, the media literally envelopes us, influencing how we interact with people all over the globe on a daily basis. It’s not just the influence of TV, radio or our local daily newspapers. It comes to us via our computers, in our email, on our cell phones, on screens located at the gas pump and even where we pour our morning coffee at the corner convenience store.

The media now numbers literally tens of thousands of mass and specialty outlets across every communication channel at our disposal. Those who run the media have gone from being a very elite and small fraternity, to numbering in the hundreds of thousands just in North America alone. One no longer needs to work at a network or a newspaper to be part of the mainstream media. Many bloggers and online columnists influence the opinions of millions as independent enterprises working from wherever their laptops can get an Internet signal.

To understand how to manage a modern-day PR campaign, it’s important to know what elements make up the modern media. It’s no longer just TV, radio and print. It’s far more than that:

  • Network TV – Despite the popularity of cable news networks, the traditional evening network newscasts from NBC, ABC and CBS still hold the vast majority of the viewing audience. In 2010, more than 23 million people watched the big three nightly newscasts, compared to about 4.5 million who watched the evening newscasts on CNN, Fox, HLN and MSNBC. They are the gold standard and getting featured on those networks – whether it be morning or evening broadcasts – is one of the toughest “gets” in the PR business.
  • Cable News – While they command a lower aggregate audience, cable news has become the place where expert celebrities and news figures are born. Getting on the radar screen of the big networks can be very challenging without starting here. One example is NBC anchor Brian Williams, who was a White House correspondent who transformed into an anchor on MSNBC’s The News with Brian Williams back in 1996. Williams would later succeed Tom Brokaw as the network’s news anchor.
  • Radio – Back when this newfangled technology called television first gained prominence, everyone in the industry swore radio would fade away and die. But it didn’t. When the Internet came into view, everyone said radio would fade away and die. But it didn’t. When satellite radio was created, everyone said terrestrial radio would fade away and die, but it didn’t. It may morph and change as the decades pass, but it’s still here, and people who want publicity need to know how to get on talk radio. That Marconi guy was definitely on to something.
  • Print – Ever since Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” leaflets were published when our country was being founded, words on the printed page have commanded the attention of the masses and that influence isn’t going away. While you’ll read in a moment about the emergence of the Internet, you have to understand one thing. No matter how big online delivery becomes, the major print outlets will still have a role to play, because those are the organizations that break news. Print is the home of the mainstay of written journalism, the beat reporter. These are the people who know news is happening before anyone else, because they have relationships with newsmakers. When the government wants to leak a story to the press, they don’t go to The Huffington Post, they go to The New York Times or The Washington Post. These organizations still house the best journalists in the business and they are still the one place everyone wants to see their names in print.
  • Online – More people get their news online today than in traditional print publications. I could flood you with statistics, but they would be meaningless against the backdrop of the current landscape that most people can see plenty well with their own two eyes. Coffee shops are populated by laptop, iPad and smartphone surfers. Millions of people get their daily news emailed to them every morning by a news outlet or aggregator. Others follow their friends’ Twitter updates to see what news is breaking right now. It used to be that newspaper reporters would sweat out the evening newscast, hoping they didn’t get beat on a news event that took place that day. Today, online news stories appear with a time stamp, so you know just how recently it was posted. It will likely be updated 20 times during the day before the evening newscast hits the air. Online news has not supplanted traditional print outlets with regard to the function of gathering the news, but it sure does deliver it faster and better, and to more people.
  • Social Media – This is the newest entry into the media, but it has proven time and again that it is not a fad, but rather one of the foundations of the modern media world. It is a place where people come together not to read the news, but to share and experience it. It is a virtual water cooler where people go to talk about what’s going on, share opinions and join forces to use that information for the purpose of changing the world around them. It is also a place in which someone engaging in a PR campaign can reach out and communicate directly with people, without having to go through an editor or an interviewer. They can act, react and interact with the very people who may one day be a customer or a client.

Twitter and Facebook can also fuel the other elements of the media. People can use social media to drive people toward traditional media coverage about them or they can use social media as a platform to comment about other trends in the news. It’s a two-way communication that has few restrictions and endless applications. It is also fraught with pitfalls, because the anarchy of social media can easily come back to bite someone who engages the audience without understanding the culture of that community. However, while it’s applications in PR are still being explored and developed, its reach is without question. If you are doing PR, and you’re not using social media, you’re sitting on a stool with one leg missing.

That’s the way it all shapes up. The modern-day media is far more complex than it was 30 years ago, but the opportunities are far more boundless than they ever were before. People can start at the bottom of the media food chain and work their way up the ladder, because today there are far more rungs on that ladder than there were decades ago. The media also moves faster than ever, because the competition for attention is far greater than in the days where your choices for news were between Walter Cronkite, Harry K. Smith and David Brinkley.

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