Public Relations- Lessons from Marty McFlyRemember the pivotal scene in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly travels back (or forward?) to 1985, only to find that it’s totally screwed up because he messed with his parents’ past?

He’s completely disoriented.

He has no idea how the house he grew up in, the neighborhood he skateboarded around, and the small town he loved had become so… different and confusing.

I had a very similar experience when returning to the public relations agency world about six months ago after a six-year hiatus.

Minus the DeLorean, unfortunately.

When I had my daughter in 2006, I decided to leave agency life and work for a non-profit organization with more flexibility so I could spend more time with my munchkin.

I wasn’t directly involved with marketing or public relations in my new role per se; I worked in more grassroots-type recruitment. Little did I know, in the six years I spent in my non-profit bubble, the world of public relations was completely evolving. No one even had the decency to give me a heads up!

Back to the Future

Fast forward to 2012. With my daughter happily in school full-time, I made the decision to return to the agency world that I so desperately missed. I longed for the creativity, the hustle and bustle, the daily interaction with people from all walks of life, and most of all, the ability to write, pitch, and win great media placements for clients.

Getting a big article in a trade publication featuring one of my clients was like a high for me – I loved that rush of success. That’s what being good at PR was to me. Stupid. Me.

I started back into the PR agency world and had NO IDEA what I was doing anymore. Wait, what? Businesses use Twitter to enhance their brand image? I don’t even have a personal Twitter account; I never thought I was interesting enough… and Facebook… that too?

There’s strategy behind that?  What’s a “social media director”?  There are blogs out there that actually matter and people read (not to mention share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter)?  On that note, what the heck is Google+?

I was in for a crash course in social media marketing, which, evidently, is kind of a crucial component of every comprehensive marketing campaign.  Newsflash.  I got totally Marty McFly’d.

The Learning Curve

Since I’ve been back in the public relations world, I’ve been spending countless hours reading everything I can on social media: Learning about pitching bloggers, figuring out who matters and why, and discovering trends and how to integrate them into our clients’ needs. And, I haven’t even scraped the surface of what’s out there or what I need to know to be the PR counsel that I expect myself to be.

Of course, “traditional” public relations is still important. I can write one mean news release on a new product launch or business opening. Looking for someone to pull together a media list of key editors covering your topic of interest? I’m your gal. Need some creative content for a website (yes, we had those in 2006!) or a newsletter? Yep, I’m on it.

But, seriously, when did that become part of a public relations campaign? Well, the answer is obvious: While I was off stupidly trying to be a good mom. (That’s sarcasm – they really do need to make a font for that.)

Evolve and Change

The lessons I’ve been learning aren’t new to anyone in the communications industry. This industry has been changing since it started. My boss used to send news releases via fax and type them on typewriters. He’s a billion years old, obviously (ok, 52, but still). I can’t even begin to fathom how he’s managed to stay so relevant with all of the changes he’s had to adapt to.

PR professionals have to be flexible, constantly learning and evolving, and aware of what matters most. If we can’t provide “great value” to our clients, we become irrelevant. And irrelevance is the worst – baby needs new shoes.

I definitely wasn’t expecting this much of a difference in a field I had previously worked in. But, I’m embracing it – because, really, what other choice do I have? Social media is here to stay – the Internet isn’t just a fad. And, we can either change with the times or keep on wishing for Doc Brown to show up on our doorsteps.

And, here’s the brutal truth – he ain’t coming.

Sara Rude

Sara Rude is a Vice President, Public Relations & Social Media Supervisor at Cramer-Krasselt . She is also an Adjunct Instructor at Marquette University, and serves on the Board of Directors of the PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin chapter. In her free time, she can be found trying to keep up with her daughter, Molly and rescue dog, Kirby or reading the most recent post-apocalyptic teen fiction series.

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