The New PR

By Martin Waxman

Yesterday I talked about the future of PR and why the industry is at a crossroads.

I touched on the challenges we face, and the choice we must make to redefine and recreate who we are, and what it is we do.

So here goes: I believe community management is the new PR.

I’m not the first to say this.

For several years, Shonali Burke has spoken about how the essence of PR is community.

And if you think about traditional PR, it’s been all about building and engaging a community – in this case media. Creating and alerting them to stories that (hopefully) matter to them.

Helping them. Celebrating them. Working in tandem so they would amplify stories to benefit both of our respective industries. At least that’s how it worked in theory.

A Natural Evolution

Community management is a natural evolution of PR with a few key changes:

  • Instead of focusing on one fairly homogenous community, we now have many diverse ones.
  • Instead of relationships we carried around with us and guarded, we become relationship builders and managers because we understand behavior, and what people want and need.
  • And instead of pitches, we create stories that can be told across many platforms.

Community Management = Strategy + Creativity + Storytelling – B.S.

That’s the formula, and the good news is many of us are already moving in a community management direction.

Four Pillars to the Approach

Listening. Yes, you’ve heard this before and it’s almost become a cliché, but that’s because it’s so fundamental. Listening and research is at the heart of what we do. By careful listening, we’ll find the communities who’ll be interested in our stories, and that takes hard work and time. A word of caution: Don’t start by turning to existing lists. Lists are a great resource, but they should come second to your own research. Always.

Publishing + Publicity. We need to wear both sides of the journalism and PR hats and truly become experts at publishing (creating content) and publicity (how it’s amplified). That means beginning with a digital editorial approach, looking at the calendar, picking up on trends, and then handpicking influencers who will be interested, and can help spread our stories. A hub and spoke model like the one proposed by Lee Odden works well: The hub is your blog/newsroom, and social networks become your nodes of distribution.

Dazzling. OK – we all have to take a pledge – swear off corporate-speak or else face a severe and public penalty! Otherwise, things won’t change. Instead, let’s turn back to roots of creative publicity, married with the ethics of two-way communications. Whatever we do must surprise, entertain, inspire, and mean something of value to our communities. I’ve said this before: We’re all in showbiz.

Measuring. Deep down I’m a creative type, and so I’m not naturally drawn to charts and numbers. But we’re in business too, and that means understanding how to move the needle. The new PR is all about the customers: thinking like them, understanding what they need and helping them. They’ll soon begin to trust you and will come back. It’s that simple. And then set quantifiable business goals, and use good tools to track and analyse them, find insights, and adapt.

Of course this all requires a paradigm shift, which takes time – but not too much time or we’ll miss our opportunity.

Boomers and GenXers: You can no longer ‘hang on to what we have.’ People don’t log hours of phone calls to pitch media anymore! It doesn’t work. We build relationships in other ways. Get with the program or get out!

Millennials: You have to understand the traditions in order to break them and create new models. Think about how you consume digital media, and how that differs from other generations as a starting point. What are the similarities? Where do things diverge?

PR has often been defined by what it’s not. I think it’s time to redefine it by what it is.

What do you think about new community management as the new PR? Do you have any ideas to add?

P.S. And don’t forget…we have DJ Waldow doing a webinar on email marketing tomorrow! Register for free here.

Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman, MCM, APR, is a senior advisor to Spin Sucks and runs a consultancy, Martin Waxman Communications. He leads digital and social media training workshops, conducts AI research, and is a LinkedIn Learning author and one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast. Martin teaches social media at McMaster University, the Schulich School of Business, Seneca College, and the UToronto SCS and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America.

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