1. A Prerequisite When Hiring New Talent -Basic Knowledge of HTML & Web Design

Right now, the realm of social media is up for grabs. Marketing and advertising agencies are vying for the rights and for PR to remain in the game, publicists need to do more than develop the ‘creative’ behind digital campaigns. Whether it’s simple HTML coding for helping build out a clients blog, or fully developing website widgets and mobile and Facebook apps, having knowledgeable developers and programmers on staff is essential on claiming the social media territory in the name of PR and wresting the burgeoning landscape from the hands of competing industries.

2. PICK UP THE PHONE (But Don’t Leave a Voice Mail)

The media is shrinking and, as an unavoidable and unfortunately consequence, journalists, sadly, are being laid off in droves. This means fewer reporters covering a greater quantity of topics and beats and receiving more emails and pitches than ever, making it all the more difficult to get noticed/be heard. Thus, placing clients in top tier outlets has become as hypercompetitive as the job market itself – Catching the receptive ear of a friendly journalist, never an easy task, has become a more difficult feat that it was only a year ago. The easiest way around that – PICK UP THE PHONE. That doesn’t mean barrage the media with a never ending stream of emails, follow-up calls, and voice mail. But if you target your reporters and outlets well and understand the deadlines and time constrains of their daily routine, a well place phone call can go a long way. And it seems a lot of PR Pros…myself included…have forgotten this once-popular means of communication in light of the ease of email.

3. Predict & Preact!

Read & React, the old M.O., worked pretty well for a while. Now, however, reactive methods are obsolete as headlines fly in and out of the public’s attention so quickly, by the time you read an article in a mainstream media outlet or see it covered in the news, get your client’s perspective on the issue, and start pitching it, the story is long dead and the masses have shifted their interests to a dozen other fleeting topics. The key is to identify trends and popular stories before they hit the airwaves and papers. A few years ago, one could argue that this is easier said than done, requiring psychic powers. I’d posit that now, with the advent and growing popularity of twitter and news aggregators like digg, spotting the trending topics is easier than ever. If a publicist is good at his/her job, Predictive and Proactive pitching is not only possible, but crucial. If you are familiar with an outlet or a journalist’s goals and interests and with what issues (or gadgets, or causes, etc…) the masses are currently consumed with, this should come naturally. You should be looking for tomorrow’s headlines, not today’s.

This preemptive and instantaneous approach isn’t just essential for publicists to understand, it’s also vital that clients are fully aware of the immediacy and urgency entailed in effectively capitalizing on current, or soon-to-be current, events. A publicist’s best efforts are only as successful as the client will allow. Ensuring that your client ‘gets’ the need for a timely response will allow you to capitalize when you do spot that topic that fits perfectly into his/her area of expertise and is about to break out of the niche into the mainstream.

4. Corporate Blogging/Social Networking Policy

Many PR Pros & employees already are, and should be, utilizing social media in their daily activities. However, when it comes to blogging and engaging the public on open platforms, speaking as the voice of an agency or on behalf of a client can be dangerous, despite all the potential benefits. Thus, policies, procedure and protocol for such engagement are necessary to ensure that both the firm and its clients are accurately represented.

5. Training ALL Employees in Basics of Social Media

Again, if you or your employees aren’t targeting your outreach to bloggers, micro-communities, and the appropriate niche audiences found online, you are missing out on reaching a vast population that want to hear your (client’s) message. Most likely, this isn’t due to apathy or laziness, rather a lack of understanding. The world of social media is evolving so rapidly, it’s difficult for even the youngest and brightest to keep up. Routine training and briefings updating employees on the latest and greatest social and online media is a must.

A Note

As Always…I’m Looking Forward To Your Thoughts & Feedback. Agree with me, Argue with Me, Either Way – The Value of Any Blog, Mine Included, is dependant on the thoughts of its readership and the quality of the commentary…So Please: Share your insights on the matter – How do you think PR Firms & Publicists should Adapt? Can We? Am I Wrong? Is PR Destined for Obsolescence? Is Social Media Fated to fall under the auspices of Marketers and Advertisers? You Tell Me!

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Also, My Boss, Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations has put up a new video on this very topic. You can see it, below (it’s short). You can also subscribe to the 5WPR Youtube Channel Here. Enjoy!

  1. Keith Trivitt says:

    Great points in here, David. I especially agree with the first one about having some Web design/development and HTLM experience. I know from my own professional experiences, this has been a tremendous help for me, as I can quickly and effectively help a client revamp a corporate Web site, build a blog or just clean up their Web site with some of the fairly basic knowledge I have. Yes, this doesn’t always fall within the scope of what we are doing for a client, but in the end, I think it’s a tremendous skill to have and one clients really appreciate.

    I would also add to this list keeping the counseling/long-term outlook/strategizing in perspective. Yes, as younger PR pros, we don’t do nearly the amount of long-term outlook work for clients as some of our superiors do. But at the same time, we will eventually be in a position of counseling and strategy development for clients, and it’s important for us to at least begin to think that way. So while we can sit there all day and use the powers and convenience of the internet, I believe it would do us all a world of good to shut that all off for 20 or 30 minutes a day and sit and logically think out some new, creative ideas for a client or a campaign, or even think of ways to help your firm grow through new and invigorating ideas and plans.

    Thanks for the insight! — Keith

    • Aerocles says:

      Keith, I completely agree with your sentiments on the “Long Term Strategy.” Unfortunatley, it’s not just our youth that precludes us from involvement in that aspect of the job. Firstly, the current economic condition means companies – clients – are focused on the “NOW” a lot more than they may have been a year or 2 ago. Money is tight so ROI needs to be immediate, if you want the client to be able to keep paying you.

      Secondly, with respect social media, ‘long term’ loses meaning. How can you plan for something that may not exist (not social media, but tools or platforms)? That’s not to say Long Term Strategy can’t be utilized in digital campaigns, rather, it’s a much trickier endeavor than long term planning for say, a product launch, incorporating stunts and reviews by traditional media outlets and personalities. Who knows if a blog or blogger will still be popular, who knows if anyone will use twitter a year from now? Though, I guess the same can be said for the New York Times at this point, so my argument isn’t that strong…

  2. Amanda Beals says:


    Your first point in interesting. While I have little background in HTML and Web Design, I do think they are integral for a social media/digital strategist. However, in that case, I would prefer to look for an interactive designer to work with a digital strategist. Web design is often over looked a secondary or easy enough if you know how to poke around and code. However, in my mind there is a stark difference between the talent of social media strategist (who falls more in a communications, writing, editing milieu) and a web designer. People go to art school specifically for web design but not necessarily to build communities, and develop nuanced correspondences with clients or whatnot.

    • Aerocles says:

      Of course, You’re right, but as the nature of our business grows, every task becomes increasingly internet centric. Navigating online communities and interacting with them is where we are now. But in order to fully immerse ourselves and the industry, a communincator must also be able to create a forum to facilitate that level of engagement – usually requiring web design and coding skills…I’m not saying I have to skills, but I’m learning and trying. And as digital campaigns become fully integrated or surpass traditional media campaigns in value and ROI, Agencies and Businesses would be remiss if they don’t see the advantages in hiring someone with that additional skill set – one that wasn’t really seen as at all vital at all in PR until now.

  3. Ellen Rossano says:

    Hey David – All good points…I definitely sgree with the need to hire staff or a consultant who can program and design. I can learn the basics, but at some level of expertise, it becomes an art and a science that I may or may not attain over time – the learning curve is is too steep if deadlines loom.
    I also think it’s important for companies and brands to have protocols and training in using social media platforms. One challenge is making policies clear and simple – not in the form of 20-page memo. A more subtle challenge is allowing participants to add their unique voice to a conversation that is an ongoing effort to represent the brand’s message. I can imaagine some fuzzy lines there.

    Thank you, as always, for something timely and informative! Ellen

    • Aerocles says:


      It’s my pleasure! I think that right now, most PR firms will employ comminucators and developers in unison. Even understanding the basics gives you a leg up in the industry right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if universities started including web design and programming classes in their Journalism and Communications Curricula…not that I was one (Psych & Philosophy Here!).

  4. Hi David, yep, agree with all of those points. I think everyone in the PR agency world is undergoing the same type of evolution, and it’s not easy. Some are up to the challenge of re-learning everything they thought they knew, and some are just sticking their head in the sand and longing for the days when they could get away with five page press releases and an email blast. One of the reasons i started my own personal blog (http://lifebeyondthelist.com) was in order to learn the basics of HTML etc, and improve my own professional understanding. With social media, you can really only learn by doing, and it takes time. See my blog post on social media time management – http://www.lewis360.com/2009/06/social-medias-dirty-little-secret.html

    Couple things i would add to your post – this also impacts crisis comms as well. You can be proactive about it in just the same way that you would approach a positive story, by monitoring your brands closely and engaging with people BEFORE you need them. This is key.

    Also, i agree on the need to train everyone on the basics, but i think that senior people have a real opportunity to jump on board and set the strategic path for such efforts, so that junior folks can understand the business imperative of evolving their skill set.

    Great post – lots of food for thought! Louise

  5. Tom Nixon says:

    Great advice here. To your first point, I heard an advertising creative, of all people, make the point that social media should be the realm of PR. That is, social media activities need to be executed in such a way that the executer think like a PR person. It’s not advertising. It’s awareness…relationship building…public perception. Where brands get into trouble is when they try to use social media channels as a way to overtly flaunt their MARKETING messages or ad pitches. Social media is part of marketing, but marketing (in the overt and obnoxious sense) should not be part of social media—unless the engagement with the customer has dictated that it can be so.

    To your larger points, well taken. I find myself having to be forced into kicking the dust off the telephone that sits right next to my laptop. It’s amazing what that old relic can do. I can have an IM chat with someone with my voice! No typing! In all seriousness, it is amazing what results the phone conversation can yield, especially in a world overflowing with electronic, faceless communication.

  6. Gretchen says:

    A great post as always, but I want a #6. I understand that 5 makes a better list, however, I think part of our jobs as PR pros embracing social media includes educating our clients about the benefits and associated risks. I can code a microsite, pick up the phone and put a social networking policy in place with the best of them, but if I can’t get my client to buy in, then I’m not moving the needle.

    Just like in traditional media relations, if PR wants to win the social media land grab, we need our clients to jump in with us. That means not only educating them on the latest and greatest technology, but hand-picking the tools that are best suited to their needs and helping them master the message and the medium.

    • Aerocles says:

      Agreed re:clients.

      There’s an inherent or systemic flaw in the current paradigm by which we Social Media Gurus operate. That is, social media is kept isolated, not integrated. We’re young and tasked with all things social media and digital – because there’s an assumption that youth entails an inborn understanding of the information superhighway (1990 Education Video…Anyone…Anyone? Bueller?)

      While this may be the case, sometimes, the problem lies in the fact that the high-ups are usually older, if only slightly, and thus don’t fully embrace social media or grasp the value of a digital campaign/strategy. Until the upper echelon gets it, they won’t push it on the clients…making #6 a slippery slope.

  7. davefleet says:

    Some interesting points here, David.

    Thinking specifically of your first point, that kind of knowledge has been helpful for me but I’m not sure it’s essential for PR people, especially for the kind of tasks you describe. Blogs, for example, are more likely to use PHP and CSS than basic HTML. While a basic knowledge helps when giving advice, the coding skillset is specialized enough that I think dedicated staff are an advantage.

    I would also add a few other items to your list to bring it up to 10:
    – Knowledge of how to go about blogger and media relations in today’s media environment (and there are nuances between the two tactics… and you can’t just spam everyone)
    – Knowledge of SEO basics
    – Expertise in measuring traditional media relations
    – Expertise in measuring the success of online and social media strategies
    – An understanding of how different communications disciplines are merging.


    • Aerocles says:

      Yes, I Should Have Mentioned PHP, CSS, & SEO…Spot on Dave.

      I think the concept of a dedicated staff for that type of work, is great. But, as I mentioned in a previous comment, the skill set is becoming increasingly important and if I owned a PR Firm, I’d definitely look to hire people with design and development abilities…but that’s just me.

  8. Deirdre says:

    This is a great post! I especially love the first point about having knowledge of HTML and being more tech savvy. PR professionals today need to understand the technology and be able to work in different environments. My PR team knows SharePoint, WordPress and has learned how to navigate different backend content management programs. I also have a strong affinity toward educating your employees about social media programs. Getting them on board as your brand evangelists is key in the social media landscape (of course a company’s policies and procedures will guide them)! Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂

    • Aerocles says:

      Any Time…I wonder how many PR Firms would pay to bring in experts or consultants to train employees in HTML, WordPress, and Social Media…the only problem would be that by the time the training is done, there would already be new things to learn…sigh

  9. Alison says:

    We are wading into the social media stream and are developing procedures for how to use social media as a business tool, protocol for associate use (during/outside of business hours), and policies for what is appropriate content, etc. Can you provide some resources and examples of strong policies, procedure and protocol? Thanks.

  10. davidmullen says:

    Great conversation starter, David. I agree with most of your points – especially #2 and #5, but I don’t totally agree with #1.

    I do think moving forward that PR agencies need the capability to do Web design and HTML, but I don’t think it needs to be a prerequisite for every PR person on staff. Simple html knowledge for adding widgets to the sidebar of blogs is helpful, but every PR pro in the building doesn’t need expert knowledge of CSS. That’s a specialized talent that I think would be better served by a dedicated person or group within the agency so your account folks can focus on picking up the phone, for example.

  11. amymengel says:

    Interesting list David. I agree with the other two Davids (Mssrs. Fleet and Mullen) that while #1 might give certain PR people an advantage, the coding language itself perhaps isn’t as important as more of a basic understanding of how Web sites are built and function.

    I definitely concur with Dave Fleet on SEO – I am really lacking knowledge in that area and working hard to try and get up to speed.

    • Aerocles says:

      Well What Can I Say…We Davids Just Know Our Social Media 🙂 – Though, I do need to brush up on (by which I mean learn) the best tactics and approach to SEO

  12. Deirdre says:

    We have lucky advantage at my agency because PFS has a built in programmer who teaches us daily. However, PR firms should, at the very least, have their teams demo new technology (so they can learn about the latest in applications and be able to speak about the technology to clients). I also suggest having a company lunch and learn on how to use WordPress and SharePoint, which may require an expert to come in for a few hours.

  13. David – Great post! I am going to add one thing to your list – PR Pros/Agencies need a definitive plan on how to measure not just emerging and social media programs, but traditional media as well. With the media shrinking, placements aren’t worth as much (or in some cases, they are worth more) than what they used to be. Also, I would argue that companies need to shift measurement from output metrics (number of views/hits, est. number of impressions, est. publicity/ad value, etc.) to outcome metrics that measure recall, messaging effectiveness and audience engagement with company’s overall communication campaign. These outcome metrics generally cost more over the duration of a PR campaign, but can add significant value to the overall campaign effectiveness and contribute to business intelligence that can be used to proactively develop and address upcoming news frames.
    Great post! Keep up the good work!

  14. Great, I was searching for something along the lines of this. What would you say would be the most effective way of marketing online (apart from) emailing, because that’s a given.

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