Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

Gone are the days when public relations professionals could pump out a press release, gather news clippings and call it a day. The industry has expanded at a rapid rate, and this transformation pushed practitioners to expand their skill sets, embrace new technologies and adapt in the digital age. Traditional PR practices like press release writing, pitching and media interviews will always have a place in this profession, but we no longer have to rely on conventional tactics to tell our brand story.

Our toolbox has grown, it’s just a matter of knowing the right tools and when to use them. Here are a few you will need to make the most of your communications efforts.

PR Software

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, agency or in-house, it’s important to use software that makes our job easier. Cision and MuckRack are two widely used programs for targeting journalists, distributing press releases, monitoring media coverage across multiple social and traditional outlets and analyzing the performance of earned media efforts. These programs are fee-based, but Cison does have a University Program that allows students to learn and use the software for free if your school is registered. I took advantage of this opportunity during my undergrad and it was a great resource to have as a young PR pro. If you’ve graduated or don’t have access to this software, try and find online tutorials, webinars or classes offered through PRSA or another communication association.

Social Media

These are the most used tools in the box. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube should be in the mix of any communications campaign. We use these platforms in our daily lives, but as a PR pros we need to think strategically about these tools and how they’re leveraged to accomplish different tactics. Twitter is useful in your media relations efforts and building working relationships with journalists covering topics relevant to your brand. Facebook should be at the center of your social media outreach efforts. It has the most active users and continues to dominate the space. Snapchat and Instagram have important roles to play when trying to reach younger audiences with fun, creative content. YouTube dominates online video, but live video and stories on FB and IG continue to grow in popularity. Social apps are creating new features every day to enhance the visual experience for brands and their audiences. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of social media to position your company and brand with the technology and online trends that influence our lives.

Photography

Every communications professional should know the basics of photography. We use images in our campaigns and sometimes those photos need to come directly from you. Get your hands on a DSLR and learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera can be intimidating to an amateur with its many buttons, dials and display options, but the hardware is the easy part! Elements like composition, light, story, space and subject are much harder to capture. Try and tell a story with your photos, one that coincides with your brand’s identity and image. I’ve been completing a photography course on Lynda, a great website that offers training and education resources for free if you have a library card. Of course, YouTube is also a wonderful place to learn anything about everything.

I can’t forget about smartphones. We have computers in our pockets and most of them have excellent cameras. They’re convenient, easy to use and great when you’re on the go and need images for social media or other press materials. The smartphone has transformed public relations in so many positive ways. Providing news, apps, photos, videos, audio, notes, search and more, it’s an indispensable tool for today’s PR professional.

Analytics and Monitoring

There are a lot of great paid and free options PR pros can use to evaluate the performance of communications efforts. Evaluation is important for demonstrating the value of your public relations efforts and identifying areas where improvements are needed for future campaigns. Analytics software can track outputs and outcomes and provide data and insights to see how your efforts had an impact on business goals and communications objectives.

On the paid side I really like the Cision Communications Cloud and Meltwater. You can track news coverage, monitor conversations about your brand on social media and gather data to present the impact of your campaign when it’s finished.

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Its high-level, dashboard-type data is compelling for even casual users, and the software offers in-depth data if you need it. It’s a great free tool to monitor how your website is performing, where visitors are coming from and the content and landing pages they’re gravitating to. For social monitoring I really like Hootsuite. It allows you to schedule posts, moderate discussions, scan relevant news and keep tabs on all of your social pages in one dashboard. Buzzsumo also deserves a mention. This software tracks what sort of topics are trending online and can help your brand locate influencers, analyze hot news topics and identify social platforms and users that are receiving the most engagement around a topic of interest. Piggybacking off trending news that’s relevant to your brand is a great way to stay relevant and visible in a congested digital landscape.

Graphic Design

The Adobe Creative Suite dominates this space. Their products are a little pricey, but if you have an opportunity to buy Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator for your personal computer or use them at work then do it! Your office may have a dedicated designer, but it doesn’t hurt to have experience with graphic design concepts and software. Creating logos, infographics, newsletters, website designs and other branded items will likely be one of your job duties if you’re working at an agency or in-house. Canva is also a neat graphic design tool for businesses on a budget. It’s a drag-and-drop program to add photos, fonts, designs and other graphics to customizable templates for social media, websites, blogs, print materials and more. The more design knowledge and skills you have, the more of an asset you will be to your agency or in-house PR team.

Blogging

Many brands have their own blog. My favorite platform is WordPress because it’s free and easy to use. Blogging is a great outlet to share updates about your company-client or fun content from events, holidays, award ceremonies and other company outings. With blogs, we have a platform to express ideas and information without the rigidness of a press release. The writing style can be more conversational and less formal. You know your company culture best. The culture should be expressed through your blogging efforts. Know your audience, craft content with that audience in mind and write with an authentic voice.

A steady stream of content is key. Before you start writing, identify people who can provide content as regular contributors. Everyone from CEOs and managers to entry-level associates and interns have their own unique perspectives and should be involved in the publishing process. The more people who contribute, the more diversified and complete your narrative will be. Develop an editorial calendar, brainstorm content ideas with your team and set goals and expectations for your blog.

SEO

Chances are your company or the brand you represent has a website. People find web content using search engines, almost always Google. With millions of web pages competing for views and visibility, it’s a challenge to organically bring more traffic to your website. That is where Search Engine Optimization can be useful. PR people should have a basic understanding of SEO and how it’s used to create a better user experience on websites. Here are some basics:

  • Identify keywords or phrases. Put them in your headlines and body text, but don’t overstuff your content.
  • Inbound links. Create compelling copy, content that people want to share and link to on their own websites, blogs or social media. Be a thought leader and a reliable and relevant source. Build your site’s credibility and create good content consistently so other websites will be encouraged to link to your content.
  • Research. Find out what people are searching and tailor your content to meet their needs. Good content marketing is about identifying why people need to read your content and what search terms they’re using to find it.

Shooting and Editing Video

Let’s borrow a play from the journalism playbook. Newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are expected to do more with less. That means becoming their own videographer and editor. PR folks should be shooting their own video, editing, packaging multimedia projects and rolling them out during communications campaigns. Budgets can be tight, and having experience with cameras and software is essential for today’s practitioner. For shooting video, I always refer to this list from the Berkley Advanced Media Institute. It’s simple and straightforward with important techniques for capturing quality video. You might have a great story to tell, but without applying proper techniques your videos won’t be polished or professional. For editing, Final Cut Pro is my first choice for software. Many editors also use Adobe Premiere. Both are extensive programs with a ton of tools and features. YouTube, Lynda and other sites have great training and tutorial videos on FCP. If you have access to the software through work or on your personal computer, spend some time learning how to organize your media, navigate the timeline, work with audio, learn tools/shortcuts and streamline your workflow from import to export.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start if you work in the exciting field of public relations. If you have any suggestions or input on the topics I’ve discussed, please leave a comment!

 

 

 

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A Security Flaw Brought Down Google Plus. That’s Not What People Are Talking About.

Google Plus was destined to fail from the start. It was late to the game, other platforms had already established their dominance in the social space and it had no competitive edge since the day it launched in 2011. The hype around this new and exciting channel was palpable, but it didn’t take long for users to test the waters and jump ship before the boat even left the harbor.

But I’m not here to discuss the failures of Google Plus. It’s not surprising a tech giant like Google wanted a piece of the social media pie. It had the resources to make it happen, even Zuckerberg saw Google’s foray into social networking as a serious threat to his company, but ultimately the fittest survived.

What I’m interested in is the communications strategy Google and parent company Alphabet devised to let Google+ down easy while staying on good terms with their users and the general public. This week, Google posted on its blog about a security flaw that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users on Google+. They opted not to disclose the issue because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. At the time Google discovered and patched the bug, Facebook was having legal and image troubles of its own when Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased tens of millions of users’ FB profile information from a third-party app maker. Google didn’t want to get caught up in Facebook’s legal and PR problems at the time, so they waited.

From an ethical standpoint, Google and Alphabet should have told the public about the Google+ security flaw as soon as they knew about it. Honesty and transparency are the pillars of public relations. Instead, they wanted to stay in control of the narrative surrounding their social network and remain proactive throughout these events.

In the end, it worked in Google’s favor. They released news of the security flaw along with the decision to end Google+ for consumers. Instead of talking about the data breach, the public was eager to discuss the end of the social network and how it should’ve happened sooner. Google knew plus was a lost cause for years, and they used that dumpster fire as a distraction to lessen the blow over the very concerning security issues.

Some tech news outlets and other mainstream media have covered the story, but the buzz online is mainly focused on the death of Google+. When you control the message, you also have some control over public opinion.

People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Google made a lot of people feel relieved that Plus is gone for good.

 

 

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

Arby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive-thru, and the city’s police chief did not take kindly to the news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications. It’s clear their public relations team was not prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

The story has spread like wildfire on social media. The company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and they failed to issue a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to right their wrongs. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we trust Arby’s and their employees? It’s important to take responsibility, not ignore the problem and wait until it blows over.

The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are needed to educate and inform the public. Instead, they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new sliders instead of doing some much-needed damage control and building goodwill with their audience.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it. A crisis communications plan needs to be in place. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. An interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening a well-established brand, and their comms. team has essentially lost control of the situation.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public and police departments across the nation. It may have been an isolated incident, but the brand is still affected wherever it operates. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible direction.

Weiner’s Reputation is Worse Than His Chance to Become NYC Mayor

After months of ridicule spawning from leaked photos of Anthony Weiner exposing himself to multiple women via Twitter, he’s recently made the decision to continue his New York City mayoral campaign. The man’s got more balls than I do, but I can’t say mine have been on Twitter. His choice to stay in the race is unwise on many fronts. He has no business running for mayor with all of this negative publicity affecting his public image and personal life.

His situation is dire. At this point he should be more concerned about repairing his damaged reputation. That can’t be achieved when he’s also trying to win a mayoral race that has no business being in. His dilemma can be compared to a PR firm working with a client in a time of crisis. The client may think they know what’s best as far as goals, strategies and tactics to implement, but a forward-thinking client will take a PR consultant’s advice to eventually agree on a plan that is best for everyone involved.

In that plan, sometimes you need to accept responsibility and do things that aren’t always easy. His problems were happening well before his mayoral campaign even started. He was sexting women of all ages while in Congress, and these actions came back to haunt him when he decided to run for NYC mayor in 2013. He never stopped but still tried to salvage his political career.

Weiner acted like a client who is disillusioned, stubborn and petty. Dropping out of this race would be a blow to his pride and ego. He just couldn’t let it go and acted selfishly and embarrassed himself, his wife and family. He didn’t listen to his counsel and became blinded by his own arrogance.

If I worked on his PR team, I would strongly urge him to put the mayoral campaign on hold and focus on stabilizing areas of his life outside of politics. The countless hours he’s spent on the campaign trail could be better spent improving relations with his wife Huma or attending sessions with a therapist to address issues that really matter.

By staying in this race, he’s digging himself into a deeper hole by choosing short-term goals over long-term happiness. Weiner must take care of personal matters to show his family, friends, supporters and the voting public that he’s ready to be a faithful public servant again.

The NFL and its Lingering PR Problem

The National Football League is arguably the most popular sporting league in the world. It won’t remain that way unless there’s a better effort to discipline players who consistently damage its reputation. Roger Goodell & Co. conduct business as usual with a “too big to fail” mentality, but if they don’t address this pressing issue soon it could lead to harsh consequences for the league and each of its 32 NFL franchises.

Since the Super Bowl in February, 27 active NFL players have been arrested for a number of different crimes. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of those 27, pinned with murder and five related gun charges just two short weeks ago. I thought the Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick incidents would be enough to push the NFL to make drastic changes to its player misconduct policies, but apparently not.

The league’s public relations crisis should be broken down, analyzed and mitigated with a strategic plan. The NFL has the reputation as the most competitive football league in the world, but off-field issues involving players continue to damage that reputation. Decision makers have been reactive instead of proactive in combating player misconduct. To salvage the league’s image and restore credibility with the fans, media, and other stakeholders, these steps should be taken by the NFL:

  1. Set a long-term goal that will be the main focus of your efforts. In this case, “Decrease the number of off-field player incidents.”
  2. Establish strategies, which are the broad approaches you’ll take to achieve the goal. Revising player misconduct policies and enforcing stricter penalties and repercussions are a few good examples.
  3. Identify measurable objectives that will be used to see if the strategies are being met. Banning or suspending players who act out could be an objective that’s easily measured to see if player misconduct decreases due to increased player bans and indefinite suspensions.
  4. Tactics need to be implemented to achieve the already set strategies and objectives on a day-to-day basis. Working with the press to get the message out about revised policies and forcing players to seek professional help to fix behavioral issues are a few useful tactics that will aid in achieving long-term goals.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. It’s imperative for the NFL to take action and not just expect the problem to fix itself. Like any successful PR campaign, a lot of planning, research and good execution will lead to better results for the league.

Samuel L. Jackson Uses Reddit as an Effective Public Relations Tool

The legend himself, Samuel L. Jackson, made a visit to Reddit this week in an effort to raise money and awareness for the non-profit Alzheimer’s Association. Jackson encouraged redditors to submit 300-word scripts on his r/movies subreddit post. At the end of the contest, Jackson promised to read the highest upvoted script as a monologue, which can be viewed below.

From a public relations perspective this idea is gold. It’s fun, engaging and gives anyone who wants to participate a chance to hear Samuel L’s iconic voice read their written, stolen or borrowed script. Mashable explained that Jackson also teamed up with Prizeo, an organization that works with celebrities and charities to award donors with the chance to win big prizes. Those who donate as little as $3 to his Prizeo page have a chance to sit down with Jackson in the UK for a muthaphukkin’ all expenses paid lunch!

He could’ve just went on Reddit to do the typical promotional run like every other celebrity, but he branched out in an effort to connect with the movie nerds on Reddit and the community as a whole. It’s a case study we can all appreciate as public relations practitioners. He identified his target audience, engaged them actively with a well-executed campaign and made a call to action asking interested users to donate.

I’ve respected this man as an actor for many years, but this effective PR effort is why he will go down as one of the all-time greats.

Unethical PR Pros Abuse Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Subreddit

If you’re unfamiliar with the popular social news site Reddit, here’s a short summary. Users post content — pictures, news articles, memes or gifs, then users have the option of upvoting or downvoting content based on how funny, interesting, creative or relevant each submission is. The best content gets the most upvotes and will often make it to the front page of Reddit. The site is made up of subreddits, which are communities about any topic of interest.

The subreddit, IAmA, or Ask me Anything, give Redditors the opportunity to interact with celebrities, thought leaders, athletes, musicians and anyone with a great story to tell by asking them questions within the subreddit. If used correctly, the platform is a great way to gain exposure on the site and interact with fans and users.

But publicists and companies have tried to abuse this power by focusing on promotion and trying to dupe the community into believing the AMA was genuine.

AMAs with Morgan Freeman and Woody Harrelson are prime examples of this abuse by PR people who want the exposure for their client without doing any of the work. These men are two excellent actors, but the way their press people handled their AMAs was unethical, tasteless and disrespectful to the community. Each of the lazy, thoughtless responses to fan’s questions made it seem like a publicist was on the other end pumping out pre-written statements about films each actor starred in.

There is an overall lack of transparency, the first rule you should never break in PR. It ruins the integrity of the profession and makes us work even harder to fix the reputation of this industry. If we ever want to be respected and trusted as an industry, these practices need to stop. We have a code of ethics for a reason, and it needs to be followed and enforced for the long-term stability of public relations.