Digital PR Changes Tools, Tactics

When I started as a publicist for a major publishing company in the mid-’80s, I drafted my releases on an IBM Selectric typewriter that had no erase function.

Whenever I made a mistake, I would take my trusty white-out and attempt to eradicate and type over my errors. Boy, have times changed!

Today, I draft my releases on my notebook computer and e-mail them to my clients for their approval. Later, I e-mail the approved release to BusinessWire, PRNewswire or InternetWire, which digitally disseminate them to thousands of media outlets nationwide, or even worldwide, if needed.

While the ubiquity of computers and the Internet has eased our workplace chores considerably, their arrival also has opened a Pandora’s box of communications options. Which tools in our arsenal aid our communications journey and which hinder our progress?

Webcasting, the ability to broadcast video over the Internet, was developed more than four years ago. With the advent of broadband, digital video and audio content are becoming increasingly important distribution outlets that can supplement full-service communications campaigns.

But are Web technologies the silver bullet in a communications campaign or a neutron bomb?

According to Andy Mass, account supervisor for GCI Group’s Networked Markets division, success of Web campaigns depend on “whether the audience you are trying to reach is online, and the size and nature of the news. All too often public relations professionals fall into the trap of assuming their target audience is just like them. Hence, when their Webcast to the nation’s Amish community results in zero attendance, they are mystified and point their fingers at the offending technology as the culprit.”

There is a big difference between announcing a groundbreaking robotic technology via Webcast versus Webcasting a company’s quarterly earnings. Few people will be compelled to watch a talking head spout facts and figures on company performance. However, watching an artificial intelligence life-form speak in four languages undoubtedly would grab significant Web viewership.

There is no doubt that Webcasts can be amazingly effective when used appropriately. However, until technology grows up enough for prime time, making broadband universally commonplace, Webcasts should not be considered as an automatic component of every communications program. Assuming that your audience has access to the Internet via cable modem, DSL or T1 lines is presumptuous without a careful analysis of your desired market.

While successful Webcasts work best when received over broadband lines, LISTSERVs can be used successfully by recipients with even a prehistoric 300 bps modem.

What is a LISTSERV mailing list?

It is an e-mail-based mailing list for people who share similar interests. A LISTSERV program maintains this list. Any e-mail letter sent to the list’s address is copied and mass-mailed to the e-mail box of every person subscribed to the list. Everyone else on the list can then reply to that letter.

LISTSERV lists provide a way to have open discussions with dozens or even hundreds of people on numerous topics. Whether you use available LISTSERVs to introduce compelling client information, or start your own LISTSERV, this targeted campaign can be highly effective.

LISTSERVs are not the place to be wildly promotional. They are ideal for information exchange, not product pushing. Be sure to become an active, listening member of some LISTSERVs before proactively contributing content.

When I started in public relations, generating editorial calendars from multiple publications was an onerous chore. You had to call each outlet and request that the editorial calendar be mailed or faxed to your office.

Today, companies like MediaMap and Bacons allow publicists to tap into thousands of editorial opportunities at the click of a mouse. Services like PRNewswire’s ProfNet send dozens of late-breaking editorial opportunities straight to your e-mail box. BusinessWire’s ExpertSource online database connects journalists with experts. Journalists can tap into ExpertSource to identify academic and industry experts that match their personalized search criteria.

The Internet age allows public relations professionals to deliver one-to-one marketing. Simply distributing generic material without customization does not engender media interest. For targeted digital audiences, the basic message is tweaked for their interests. Industry analysts want more of the big picture overview and competitive market distinction, while trade media require more drill-down technical detail.

It is not uncommon to prepare multiple press releases for a single new product introduction — a general release, one for their distributors and one for the trade media. With a digital public relations program, it is vital to know who your audiences are and how they like to receive information.

The digital dynamic of our work translates to a whole new roster of new age mistakes. An account supervisor I once worked with e-mailed an old press release to an electronic news distribution service. At the blink of an eye, last year’s product release was being broadcast all over the world.

Every day, account executives nationwide attach files to their e-mail correspondence with journalists who generally hate being swamped with files unless they have specifically requested them. The art of the targeted and brief media e-mail is an important part of successfully working in public relations.

The age of digital transformation is upon us, and it is up to all responsible communications professionals to ascertain which new gear in the digital toolbox to draw upon.

Our Web-centric planet allows us to centralize information and disseminate it to millions of people at the click of a mouse. No longer are solitary citizens without a voice. The Web has empowered and emboldened each of us to speak up and join like-minded people around the world.

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