Gini Dietrich

What the Changing World of PR Means to Today’s Organizations

By: Gini Dietrich | October 2, 2012 | 

Last week was an interesting week in the high-tech, social media, Internet geek world.

First, Twitter is trying to figure out how to clean up its act, have a consistent brand, and make money, so it’s shutting out third-party app developers. Then, Justin Timberlake announced a new MySpace, taking advantage of the hits Facebook has had on Wall Street. And rage on the social networks helped get the NFL referees back to work.

And, yet, organizations still are ignoring the effect the web has on their organizations.

Never before have we had so little control…and so much control.

PR in the Past

It used to be you’d hire a PR firm because of their long-lasting relationships with journalists and because of their deep vertical market knowledge.

I have a friend who wrote for the Wall Street Journal most of my career. If I needed him to write a story for a client, he typically did (but mostly because I only brought him stories that fit his beat and readership). In 2008, though, he was laid off and he’s not gone back to reporting.

Now we have the opportunity to create relationships with journalists and bloggers all on our own. We don’t need a middle man for that; we have direct access (watch me work us out of a job).

It used to be we’d create an annual program and see it all the way through before we’d measure results. And the only results we could truly measure were those surrounding brand awareness. If you weren’t a gigantic company with a huge budget to spend on a brand awareness study, you didn’t know whether or not your aided and unaided awareness had grown. You had to rely on intuition.

Now we know fairly immediately whether or not something is working. No more waiting a full year to complete a program and then doing an expensive brand awareness study.

This web thing? It’s fundamentally changing the way we communicate.

PR Today

It won’t come as a surprise to many you the reason I love communicating via the web is because it creates the ability to measure results that tie back to real financial goals. No more media impressions and advertising equivalencies.

It flattens out the world. A boutique retailer has the same opportunities, and access to the same customers, as the big box stores.

We can now create ways to segment our customers and prospects and communicate different things to them, depending on where they are in the buying cycle.

And now, with some simple elbow grease and something to say, the opportunity to appear in the national news publications through (what we call) the response campaign is no longer reliant on an expensive PR firm with deep relationships.

Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it takes time. Yes, you have to know where to look.

But, just like you did when you had to write that fifth grade report on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, you do your research and you figure it out.

So Why Hire PR?

I told you I was going to work us out of a job!

Not really. There are plenty of things a PR professional can help you do. But times have changed. Journalists used to be okay with the fact they didn’t have direct access to the leaders inside an organization. Customers used to be okay with the fact they couldn’t directly reach the people at the companies where they buy.

They all want (and expect) direct access to you.

But a communications professional? He or she can help you set the strategy, figure out what kinds of data to be analyzing, determine how to measure the right things to drive real business results, choose the right approaches (as Geoff Livingston and I discuss at great lengths in Marketing in the Round), and even execute the plan.

But the relationships? Those no longer belong to the third-party professional. Those belong to you. And you have an amazing opportunity to nurture them, engage them, and create lifetime, loyal customers out of them.

You tell me. Why do you hire PR pros? Or, if you’re a PR pro, why should an organization hire you?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I think you’ve hit on the fact that hinders most businesses and organizations, big or small: the web and social media have changed everything. And many of them don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. It’s not only changing the way we do business, but completely changing business models from the core.

    •  @KenMueller I just read an article that shows some ungodly percentage of us will shop online for the holidays. Which is great for us, but terrible for retailers. They no longer have to worry about brick and mortar sales. They have to figure out how to compete with the world wide web. You and I both think this is exciting, but I imagine it’s completely overwhelming to most.

      •  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller While it’s now showing its age, one of my favorite books on the impact of the web to business is Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail”. Doing business online allowed retailers to stock hard-to-find or speciality products (and have a customer base ready to buy) with a much larger reach. What’s interesting is seeing how retailers are combating the showroom effect, not to mention the psychology of Amazon buyers.  
        I have a number of friends who’ve said that they tend distrust a produc if it’s *not* available on Amazon. 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  @KenMueller And now you can scan a barcode in the store and immediately see if you can buy it cheaper on Amazon. It’s pretty interesting what they’re doing, all by themselves, to change retail.

        • Stupid sausage fingers causing typos. GAH. 

        •  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller I do that all the time, especially as a Prime member. 
          I even have friends who order all their consumables/hygiene stuff on Amazon every 30 days. It’s proven to be less expensive ($$ and time) compared to hopping in the car, fighting traffic and crowds in the stores, etc. Definitely not the norm, but that’s changing slowly. 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  I do that, too. I hate to shop. I hate lines. I just want to order and be done with it. It makes me sad to do that to the retailers in my neighborhood, but I’m not going to change.

        •  @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski We’re doing that a lot. And I’m even in a small city where the crowds are fairly low and the distance to the stores are short. Like you say Jason, being a prime member makes it pretty nice. But, Gini, I’m like you. I feel for the stores I’m no longer supporting. What about that little Vitamin Villa store that’s barely hanging on?
          And are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? Will we lose all these stores at some point and begrudge our changes? I hate to shop too but then there are times when I want to just go look and see what I want/need where all the choices are right there in front of me.

        •  @Carmelo  @ginidietrich It’s certainly something that I think about as well, Carmelo. I certainly like to support local retailers as much as I’m able, but it’s often about the kind of inventory that I’m looking for. As a huge comic book nerd, I love my local shop. I can browse there, talk with other customers about this title or that. They also host regular game nights to try out new titles as well as get others involved in the hobby.
          One of my other hobbies is homebrewing. There’s a local supply shop nearby, but his prices are always considerably higher than online with limited inventory. You can guess who gets my business. It’s nice to have him close when I need to replace a broken hydrometer or a few emergency packets of dry yeast, but I typically buy my grain in bulk through my homebrewer’s club or use a different online retailer who has high turnover and lots of stock. 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  @Carmelo  @ginidietrich I’m in much the same boat. As a small business owner I do my best to support other small businesses, and I think I do pretty well, but it’s not always practical or affordable. Amazon is just frickin’ cheap, and quick. It’s really easy. I’m not sure what the answer is for local businesses. In some business categories, the level of customer service and personalized service will be the factor. 

  • servantofchaos

    @melanie_james Yep – @spinsucks is correct 😉

  • DennisBailey

    Why hire a PR pro? Because as Ken said, there are so many businesses and CEOs that just don’t get it. A good PR pro that has adopted new digital strategies can walk them through the new media landscape and serve as a one-stop-shop for social media, SEO, content marketing, etc. That’s provided the PR pro isn’t still stuck counting news clips or ad equivalents. That ship has sailed.

    •  @DennisBailey I spoke at a PR conference a few weeks ago and, because I talk about no more media impressions ans AVEs, a few people came up to me afterwards and said that’s still what they’re measuring because a) they don’t know what else to measure and b) their clients (or executives) require it. Unfortunately, that ship has not yet sailed. It makes me sad.

      •  @ginidietrich  @DennisBailey Am I the only one who has NEVER worked with ad equivalencies? We didn’t do it at the PR firm I worked at because we thought it was a bunk metric….and it’s been 8 years since I worked there. I’m surprised there are still so many who use that.

        • DennisBailey

           @lauraclick  @ginidietrich  I used them a long time ago, only because I had clients that demanded them. I agree, and knew then, it was mostly bunk. It was just a way to impress the client, but you could pretty much assign any monetary value you wanted. 

        •  @DennisBailey  @lauraclick Like Dennis, I used them a long time ago. At the beginning of my career. I started AD nearly eight years ago and, when clients asked for them, we generously educated them on the types of things we should be measuring. So, from where I sit, they’re very old. But people (unfortunately) are still using them.

  • Really great stuff here, Gini. I think where PR/Marketing pros really add value is strategy and communication. Many companies struggle with knowing what to do, where to do it and how to implement it. PR/Marketing folks can help with that. 
    We’re still communicators. That hasn’t changed. What HAS changed is the medium and how you measure success. Those that get that shouldn’t have any trouble finding organizations who would LOVE to work with you!

    •  @lauraclick That’s the thing that kills me about the social web. There are organizations jumping into the online reputation and crisis game…without ANY experience. And we wonder why things go awry. 

      •  @ginidietrich Yup. There’s a big difference between understanding the tools and understanding the communication strategy behind them. You must have both.

  • Maybe I’m off base but it seems like companies might want to hire PR pros for similar reasons that a person might hire a life/business coach. In a way … to teach them how to be “human.” Just as people have pretty much forgotten how to relate to the world around them, businesses too have failed to grasp a basic tenant of humanity – relationships.
    Businesses aren’t to be on pedestals anymore but they can’t seem to “get down on their knees and talk to the little girl eye to eye.” Not that we’re little girls – you know what I mean? I’m talking authenticity – genuineness.

  • Maybe I’m off base but it seems like companies might want to hire PR pros for similar reasons that a person might hire a life/business coach. In a way … to teach them how to be “human.” Just as people have pretty much forgotten how to relate to the world around them, businesses too have failed to grasp a basic tenet of humanity – relationships.
    Businesses aren’t to be on pedestals anymore but they can’t seem to “get down on their knees and talk to the little girl eye to eye.” Not that we’re little girls – you know what I mean? I’m talking authenticity – genuineness.

    •  @Carmelo I’m not sure PR pros can teach leaders that. I’d like to think we can – especially those of us who are ahead of the game – but there are many, many who don’t want to change. I see it all the time in the audiences when I speak. They still think they control their messaging and their brands.

  • MikeSchaffer

    It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world. And us PR pros can help organizations of all sizes navigate it and see the bigger picture. 
    Sure, it irks me just a little when clients go straight to my clients instead of me, but that’s just Gold Star Syndrome (title of a future blog post!). Basically, I love being the one to say “Hey, Client! I’ve got the #1 reporter from the #1 outlet in your industry that is a huge fan of your product and can’t wait to talk to you!” Who wouldn’t want to be that middle man?
    But that’s not how it works right now. My job is to prepare clients to take advantage of opportunities that 1) come their way AND 2) come through me AND 3) we both create.
    Our job isn’t to come loaded with relationships – it’s to help clients build relationships with all audiences.

    •  @MikeSchaffer Love your last sentence, Mike! I always tell my team that if we’re not preparing our clients to work without us, we’re not doing our jobs. The funny thing about that is the clients love working with you so much, they find other things for you to do. You become partners instead of vendors. It’s a pretty nice situation.

      • MikeSchaffer

         @ginidietrich Absolutely. The highest praise I ever got from a client was in an interview a client did with PRWEEK saying I was an extension of their team, not a vendor. Cool moment.

        •  @MikeSchaffer  @ginidietrich That last sentence is a doozy! Well done. 🙂 

  • An organization should hire us because we know how to write. And, on a larger scale, we know how to communicate. And since so many of us actually enjoy the process of writing, it shows.
    I am continuously amazed by the amount of poor writing (press releases, especially) that is one step away from being published for all the world to see. A hatred of writing leads to poor quality, but that skill is still important in this digital world we live in. Maybe more important than it has ever been.
    We might no longer be the sole keepers of the journalist relationships, but we know how to turn corporate jargon into something that is easily understood by the media. I have to think that still counts for something, right?

    •  @bradmarley I don’t know that all PR pros love to write. You do. I do. But throughout my career, the people I’ve worked with who fall into that realm are less than 10 percent. But to your last point, I go round and round with one particular client about their jargon nearly daily. It’s a constant education on what will work with media/bloggers and what will not.

      •  @ginidietrich Interesting. So we are the 10 Percent?
        All joking aside, my experience puts that number higher, but I guess I’m overestimating. Do you think the number is lower because a lot of people fall back on PR as a career? (I’m one of them, BTW.) Because then I would understand why it’s so low.
        Do you think another factor working against us is the idea that anyone can do it? I could see that.

        •  @bradmarley I don’t know…I come from the big agency world and they began to hire journalists, about the same time as I was leaving, because there were so few people inside the organization who could write well (or understood how the media works). Maybe the difference is small vs. large?

  • So many businesses are started by expert craftsman; not business/marketing savvy, operators.
    Just as they learned their craft, solid business principles, marketing strategies, measuring all of this activity must be learned. It’s a craft in itself.
    Many business owners don’t want to learn this stuff either… They are busy delivering their products and/or services to their customers and honing their craft.
    They would rather hire professionals who eat and breathe these activities and can get the job done.
    If you have business owners who fit this profile, which there are many, who are smart enough to hire and listen to people who can help them reach their goals, its seems to me that its a good deal for the business owner and the marketing/PR professionals/ agencies who represent them.
    This is where the breakdown occurs;
    1.) You have business owners who don’t listen nor participate in the process. So they pay money for something, never understanding what it is these marketing/PR professionals are actually doing. Because of this, they’re constantly starting from scratch. You can’t create harmony and success in business if both parties are not working together from the same sheet of music to transform a business.
    2.) There are a lot more experts/guru’s (idiots) in the space that don’t have a clue what it is they are doing. Not only do they not understand basic marketing and PR principles, they believe social media is the cure all for all marketing and PR in business because it’s the only thing they’ve ever been good at in life – talking!
    There’s a lot more substance that goes into creating a successful marketing/ PR strategy for brand or company than having the ability to talk. It’s a space full of B.S. and for some reason; people still love to buy boat loads of it.
    In answer to your question, Gini; I hire the best marketing, PR professionals and/or secretaries, receptionists, custodians that I can find, because that’s what ALL successful companies I’ve ever been involved with do. They hire the very best people they find.
    And I make sure that every person is not only elated with their position, but I find out what their real goals are in life and for the position they’re currently serving in so I can be the conduit for them to grow and get what they want out of life.
    That is my job as I see it anyhow. Cheers miss Gini 🙂 

    • @Mark_Harai Well said – Gini, get this guy a prize or something!

      •  @SociallyGenius  @Mark_Harai That was an awesome reply, thank you… I couldn’t find the RSS feed for your blog. Do you have one, or am I blind..?
        I think you should rock the artist in you and give people what they want… It’s a gift that will keep on giving : )

        • @Mark_Harai Thank you! I’m making great strides artisticly on Instagram… Now over a 20k followship! Still trying to earn income but it’s a work in progress.

          The short answer to your question is yes, there has to be a RSS feed because that’s what I used to link up to triberr. The long answer, sadly, is I don’t even know where to tell you where to find it lol. I always just hit the rss button by the address bar. Sorry, but thanks for your supporting words

    •  @Mark_Harai @ginidietrich Very well said Mark. One can’t be everything to everyone at all times. Rarely does anyone even come close! We need great people.  

      •  @Carmelo  @ginidietrich Nice reply Carmelo and even better guest post on SpinSucks, thank you for sharing it…
        I’m with you on this: 
        “We come to Spin Sucks because we stand for something  – honesty and integrity. Of course these can’t be limited to the public persona. It has to come from within. You can’t manufacture authenticity.” Carmelo Bryan
        What a great body of work Gini has established here. You just need to hear whats on the minds of community participants/ contributors to discover what the driving force behind this community is.
        I say, Bravo Gini!!!

        •  @Mark_Harai  @ginidietrich Very kind of you Mark, thank you. I was wondering if anyone had seen the post yet. Thanks for the … well, sort of “re-tweet?”

        •  @Mark_Harai  @ginidietrich and yes … bravo, Gini! I spent a half a day a while back reading dozens of posts from over the years at Spin Sucks.

        •  @Carmelo  @ginidietrich I somehow missed your guest post; but SpinSucks cranks out a lot of content to keep up with and most of it requires deep reading and deep thought to contribute to the conversation 😮
          I did give your article a full RT and shared it around the horn.
          Cheers Carmelo : )

        •  @Mark_Harai  @ginidietrich Thanks for dropping by Mark. I don’t think it got announced here yet. Appreciate your thoughts!

        •  @Mark_Harai  @Carmelo Thank you. 🙂

    •  @Mark_Harai Amen, Mark! To your first point, this is one of the hardest parts of our jobs. We’ve been really lucky, in the past couple of years, to work with clients who do listen and participate in the process. We have a 90 day grace period where we determine whether or not the client is a good fit. If they’re not (for the reasons you mention), we “fire” them.
      To your second point, this is the one that drives me absolutely nuts. I think I mentioned below that I have a friend who called me a few weeks ago to get my counsel on creating a crisis management program for his client. He has ZERO crisis or communications experience, but to save the client and stay within budget, he’s going to great it for them. This makes me crazy. It’ll be worse for the client in the long run because he’s advising them on something he’s never done.
      But alas. As the world turns.

  • brianbreid

    I’ll quibble with this: “Now we have the opportunity to create relationships with journalists and bloggers all on our own. We don’t need a middle man for that; we have direct access (watch me work us out of a job).”
    Yes, it is, in theory, easier for folks to interact directly with reporters/bloggers. But that’s still a time suck of an activity, and there are a lot more fish in the sea. You used to be able to get away with a can’t miss contact at the WSJ or NYT or wherever. Now, a top-flight flack needs to keep an eye on not only those big pubs, but dozens of bloggers and hundreds of people tweeting about a specific niche. 
    Even if a client does have those relationship-building skills (not a given), identifying the right people to talk to and nurturing those relationships takes time and energy and opportunity costs. 
    Now, I love to turn my relationships over clients (especially at the high level). The reporters love the access. The execs love cutting out the middleman. But the grunt work of relationship-building? Sometimes, it’s best (and most cost-effective) to leave that to the professionals. 

    •  @brianbreid Quibbler! One of the things we do is have our clients comments on blogs and articles to keep them top-of-mind with the reporters who are a priority for them. Sure, we have the relationships with those journalists and can help, but the real magic happens when we orchestrate the direct connection. 

  • rustyspeidel

    We can really help in the following ways:
    +  Clarifying the business model;
    +  Determining how that model is executed, measured, and refined;
    +  Developing reputation management and strategy to keep the company transparent and on track;
    +  Creating or tightening brand persona;
    +  Defining the lexicon and voice of the business;
    +  Defining a tech strategy for determining platforms, integration opportunities, partnerships, and the      right APIs to promote the above brand message;
    +  Identifying and INTEGRATING marketing goals directly with the revenue that makes the business       work;
    +  Bringing contacts and writing expertise to the table to extend the internal teams that clients might       already have.
    Wow! That’s a lot of added value. I’m sure there’s more.

    •  @rustyspeidel I’m not sure this fits the mold for most PR pros, Rusty. Yes, it’s what you and I both do, but we’re not the norm. I’d put this more under branding or marketing.

  • JavierArronis

    @John_G_Olson Thank you so much for the RT, John! Have a great rest of the day 🙂

    • John_G_Olson

      @JavierArronis You’re welcome, Javier. My day is winding down. See you in the Twitterverse tomorrow, friend.

  • margieclayman

    Great post, Gini-San, but I wonder if the playing field really is leveled. Journalists are getting more attuned to social media too, and they know a big company or firm from a small one. My hypothesis is that they would be more likely to write the story for the big company because they’d know they’d get more traffic to their journal’s site. What do you think?

    •  @margieclayman I don’t agree. Earlier this year, I was at an event and I overheard two people from large agencies talking about their competitors. One of them said they consider us a big competitor. I laughed out loud. We are not even a bug on their windshield, but social media has afforded us the opportunity to compete. As well, because of the way we create the response campaign, one client was bragging yesterday that he’s now talking to reporters from the Sun-Times and the LA Times. Before this, it would have taken us months to get those reporters to pay attention to this company. Now, because he comments on their articles, he’s top-of-mind for them and they use him as a resource.

  • ginidietrich

    @PhilNugent Thanks!

  • This is one of those PR-oriented posts I just love reading. I’m an old ad guy and I love this community’s point of view. There’s a lot of crossover for people of the mind that solving the customer’s problem, not practicing a particular craft, is the goal. 

  • ginidietrich

    @coledouglas7 Thanks!

  • ginidietrich

    @CPRS_NL Thanks!

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