Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shoot and Share

I've read in various places the ideas that 'anyone with a handheld device and an internet connection can produce and distribute content' or 'PR and journalist roles are changing' or 'anyone with a grudge can create a crisis for your firm online'. We've been warned about tech-savvy individuals with a creative mind potentially doing serious damage to opinion and reputation. PRBlogger posts a great example of these concerns, titled Those bitter Aussies. Take a look!

A Practitioner's View

Sorry folks, I don't work in PR. So to answer a question I've been pondering I've turned to someone who does. Attila Schillinger is a founding partner of the Avantgarde Group, a communications consultancy based in Europe. He has previously been voted one of the Top 40 most influencial young international PR professionals by PR Week. Below is his answer to the question: "How has the Internet influenced your work in public relations?".

"The internet has had a profound influence on our work in PR. First, it has become a regular research tool. Secondly, it has eliminated borders when it comes to news. There is no such thing today as "local" news. Anything can become global within minutes depending on the significance of the information. Finally, it has been changing the name of the game completely with the appearance of Web 2.0 applications.

Today we strive to add digital elements to each and every PR campaign we are running. We began to use Flickr to upload real time event photos and make them available to editors. We use Youtube to create content and upload visuals. We use Facebook for creating profiles for our clients. We are on Twitter to bring attention to news items and events. One by one, we are integrating new social networking tools into our work.

At a company level, we made a conscious decision not to create a separate digital unit, but to integrate digital PR into the job requirement of all staff. We have included digital PR into staff evaluations and tie part of annual bonuses to this specific kind of performance. This has been driven by the belief that in 5-10 years, those who are left behind without digital skills will simply be out of the job market and likely out of our company! The timeframe may even be shorter, we don't yet know, but we remain alert, curious and hungry for knowledge as it develops."

Thank you, Attila.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How Much Is Enough?

I’m putting pen to paper (so to speak) to write about how new technology is affecting crisis communications and – like good boy scouts – being prepared obviously requires an online facet: constant monitoring, pro-active responses and a dedicated contingency webpage, for example. And I’m sure in a lot of cases this – as part of an integrated crisis response – will be enough to weather the storm.

But online access and usage are increasing and networks are evolving, especially through social media. News travels faster and is shared among ever larger online groups. So, if Shirky’s book title ‘Here Comes Everybody’ is an accurate forecast, the potential surely exists for far more destructive crisis events. Prevention will always be better than cure but for PR practitioners, the evolving concept of online crisis management begs the question: How much (preparation and reaction) is enough?

Friday, May 15, 2009

J'aime La Blackpool?

Another great example of social media being used for promotional campaigns. In fact, I think social media is ideally suited for tourist promotion. I don't know if the French will fall for it, but I like it! Hotpot anyone?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Do You Want?

What do the following have in common: the receiver in Westley-McLean’s model, Grunig’s excellence theory, the medium in Maletzke’s model, media effects theory and motives in the uses and gratification model? The answer: content.

Content is obviously a crucial component in any model of communication and it becomes even more important for communication online.
  • In Westley-McLean’s model the receiver will increasingly ‘pull’ desired content through online and handheld channels (also see my earlier post: I, Gatekeeper?).
  • To gain mutual understanding in excellence theory, the receiver will only enter into interactive, online dialogue if the content compels them to do so.
  • In Maletzke’s model, the message must be appropriately crafted, designed and delivered effectively for online access and consumption.
  • And meeting the various motives of online consumers (information, advice, insight, news, education, socialization, titillation and so on) means content should be designed for their ‘gratification’.
(On the last point, it struck me that Bookmark analysis (mine include BBC's football , a movie website, Reuters News and a healthfood website) would help our understanding of content use and receivers).

The Internet offers a unique set of characteristics which transcend traditional media constraints such as reach, time, censorship and interactivity. Theory is being rethought. Communication can no longer be thought of as simply ‘push and persuade’. And most importantly, communicators online need to ask, ‘What do you want?’

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Something to Look Forward To

Every blog should include at least one post where the imagination runs wild and free. So, here’s one of mine. Extrapolating recent trends, I foresee a greatly improved world in the future because of the Internet. Increasingly, it is affording minorities a voice, emancipating the oppressed and equalizing the disadvantaged. It is shaming the errant and exposing the corrupt. For decades big business and politics have served their own self-interest with the support of powerful media agenda, but the Internet is cutting down this veil. It is giving power back to the people and becoming a tool of true democracy. It is forcing transparency, accountability and responsibility onto those that rule and operate the planet. It is becoming an effective deterrent to immoral, unethical and anti-social behavior, thereby forcing us to be better people. And that, ladies and gentlemen, can only be good for the world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Best (PR) Job in the World?

If you need a textbook example of how PR should leverage new technology, look no further. Put the theory books and guru diagrams down for a moment and look at a real-world example from the clever, creative lot down-under.

The Queensland Tourism Board just generated A$110m of worldwide publicity at a cost of A$1.7m, and new technology played a significant part in its success. And in the most traditional definition, that’s exactly what PR is all about! Good on yer, mate!

Relevant Conversation

There are some common themes that keep popping up if one reads about PR and new technology, for example the idea that diverse audiences are organizing themselves into more powerful, collective entities, that ‘pull’ is increasingly important and that theory really ought to be revised for new communication channels (for example the ‘Grunigian view of modern PR’) .

And of course it’s hard not to like the colorful Conversation Prism in spite of such insightful interpretations like ‘The art of conversation is mastered through both the practice of hearing and listening’.

Nevertheless, being more ‘bottom-up’ or cognizant of where relationships are actually happening online makes a great deal of sense (and is sincerity the same thing as earning credibility?) and if the Prism’s 'halos' contextualize the landscape and guide relevant dialogue, it’s a valuable aid to cut through the volume of noise being made by all those diverse publics.

“Are you talking to me?”

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are You Popular?

I’ve just read a research paper which finds the importance of online influence is measured more in terms of participation, name recognition, frequency of posting and search engine ranking above other factors such as content quality. It also recognises that measurement criteria for social media elements (like audience awareness) are currently lacking. This also seems to support other research (such as: 1) analysis; 2) examination) where the perception that online media is less credible, accurate or ethical (compared to traditional media) persists. So, success online seems to be all about winning the popularity contest. Maybe I need to start thinking more in terms of visibility and presence versus quality and substance!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Contact me...

I spend a fair amount of time each day responding to office emails (including blackberry), personal emails, phone calls and phone text messages. So many of my personal and professional contacts joined Facebook that I also felt obliged to join, so I can be (reluctantly) contacted there too. And now I have a blog page. 

I've been reading other blogs which often carry a comment like, 'Also connect with me on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn'. I have to wonder where people find the time to monitor all these channels of communication. As well as answering emails etc. I have to do my work, spend time with my family and squeeze some exercise (and the occasional beer) into my schedule. Personally, I wouldn't have the time to surf so many websites unless they were part of my job description. And if PR practice increasingly moves online and seeks to engage directly with publics in a many-to-many framework, how much interaction (and time) would be involved? If you want to connect with me, ask for my email address and phone number please!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Paradox of Social Media

Several years ago I wrote a paper on how new technology influenced relationships. One of the findings was that isolation and anonymity in a virtual world are actively encouraged by new technology. Sure, connectivity and interaction have improved without boundaries, but what about traditional forms of social behaviour? Even my older son has to be shepherded outside to play in the fresh air; if not he would play his DS Nintendo until his eyes crossed.

Social Media is the name tech gurus have given to online websites such as Facebook. In some respects I accept they are social (they allow people to gather, share, communicate and discover, for example). Definitions aside though, a person sitting alone in a chair in front of a screen is still isolated, in my opinion. I therefore stand by my previous conclusion: that new technology should not deny people real, physical contact (this may be relevant for PR/client relationships too). I'm going back to the pub for some good, old-fashioned socialising! Anyone else coming...?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I, Gatekeeper?

My employer has had to communicate a lot of difficult news recently (layoffs, losses etc) due to the financial crisis. And such sensitive news has to be carefully crafted and delivered through the media, of course. It was in this context that I wondered whether my employer would ever be comfortable communicating such content online.

Theorists claim a new model of communication (and a new variety of PR practice) is required due to the internet. The level of interactivity and participation online, they argue, means the traditional role of the journalist (and corporate media relations effort) as gatekeeper to audiences, is made redundant.

But that’s a big jump to make, despite the ever-increasing power of the internet. Credibility is a key issue (as authors like Tom Kelleher point out) and according to my corporate communication buddies, the various stakeholder groups are more likely to trust the Financial Times or Asian Wall Street Journal for corporate news compared to a (more bias?) post made on the corporate website. And on the idea of direct online dialogue, another PR friend told me ‘I might send a press release through the internet, but I don’t want a time-consuming and possible abusive interactive dialogue with [stakeholders] afterwards’.

From a corporate perspective, current communication practice can sometimes prove difficult to police due to the ever-present human element. Online interaction only adds to this ‘risk’ and makes content control – and therefore the ability to earn credibility – even more difficult. Ultimately and inevitably some PR work will move online, but it seems to me that media gatekeepers can still sleep peacefully, at least for now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Ironic Introduction

Welcome! PRINT is a blog that seeks discussion on how new technology influences the professional practice of public relations (PR). As such - and with intentional irony - it has very little to do with traditional PRINT media and much more to do with the online environment. 

What sort of issues should this blog be covering in the future? Some relevant questions might include (but are certainly not limited to):

- Does traditional PR theory stay relevant as the media environment evolves under new technology?
- How does PR practice deliver information over new technology platforms?
- How does PR cope with media convergence and the public 'demand' for specific information over specific channels, ie, public empowerment?
- How are public and stakeholder relations managed in the online environment?
- How are issues and crisis management handled under new technology landscapes?
- Does new technology require new approaches to professional PR practice?  

And, while new technology obviously has many benefits it also makes us busier people increasingly short on time. Therefore, thank you for taking the time to visit this blog. I look forward to sharing and receiving opinions, arguments and insights!