Social PRBy Shonali Burke

I’ve just returned from the PRSA annual conference in Atlanta (it was awesome!).

Given that this is one of the industry’s biggest conferences of the year, you’d think people would be more prepared for it, right?


Here’s what started happening last week, mostly on Thursday and Friday.

Bear in mind that the opening General Assembly was on Sunday, so late last week were travel days for most.

Emails Gone Wild

I’m paraphrasing VERY slightly on the following.

  • Email #1 from Vendor, that arrived in my inbox on Friday:

Hi (no name), I hope you’re looking forward to great learnings at the conference. Please stop by and visit me in Booth # __ and get a demo of blah blah blah…

  • Email #2 from Random Dude presenting, also arrived in my inbox on Friday:

Subject line: Confirming you’re joining me next week (me: What? Did I forget an appointment? Dammit!)

Email: “Good morning! I’m speaking at <blah blah blah> and hope you’ll join me (WHY?) … because I’m launching my book <ohhhh…. now I get it>…

  • Email #3, also from a vendor, but look at the difference:

Subject line: The first 10 people get a t-shirt. The second 10 get a puppy.

<What?! Puppies?? Where are the puppies??)

And of course I click through.

Hi Shonali,

You’re receiving a lot of emails from sponsors of the PRSAICON. Here’s what you need to know about the company sending this one:

We’re not really giving out puppies. We will be giving out cool t-shirts (not the starchy kind you wash your car in), and when we run out of t-shirts we’re giving out exclusive content for PRSAICON attendees.

But that’s not the only reason why you should come see ___ at booth #___. Come by because we’ll show you how to get out of spreadsheets and manage your media relations like a boss with a super intuitive PR tool.

We’re also giving out tchotchkes (not the kind you give to your grandma) during our smoothie breaks in the Networking Hall on Sunday between 4:00-4:45 pm and on Monday between 2:45-3:30 pm.

PR Status Quo Disrupted

You see the difference, I’m sure.

  • They took the trouble to address me by name.
  • They put themselves in my shoes so I was tuned in to them as opposed to turned off.
  • They used humor to make their point… and THEN went in for the pitch.

What this last company did was something very basic and absolutely essential to progress in our field: They disrupted the PR status quo.

And despite their “disruption,” they still managed to achieve what PR is still, and has always been, about: Building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with our publics.

Social PR is the Disruption

These days we hear a lot about “disruption,” but what does that actually mean?

It certainly doesn’t mean shouting on social media at brands every time they mess up, tagging them in #every #single #hashtag #possible or, conversely, being the brand equivalent of a pimplebutt.

What it does mean is harnessing that singular skill you have to bring your clients to a point of harmonious and active engagement with their audiences in the social sphere.

That is disruption because you are disrupting the PR status quo in a way that is uniquely you.

That is what takes good old PR and turns it into what I call Social PR.

That, my friends, is the future.

Editor’s note: If you want to check out more about what Shonali means by “social PR,” you should check out her free online course: The Social PR Virtuoso. I get nothing from saying that except her undying love and devotion from this day forward.

Shonali Burke

Shonali Burke, ABC, is president & CEO of a social PR consultancy that takes your business communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She also teaches at Johns Hopkins, and is the creator of the #measurePR hashtag and Twitter chats, which celebrates seven years in 2017.

View all posts by Shonali Burke