4 ways PR pros can catch up with social media trends

A recent study showed public relations experts are woefully behind the times in terms of digital media efforts. Here’s how you can get up to speed. 


The Internet and social media have clearly revolutionized business, yet public relations has largely failed to adapt, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations on the state of the profession in the U.K.

The report reveals a profession that’s distressingly unprepared for work in the digital world. It’s likely the same problems exist in other countries, including in the U.S.

Many survey respondents admit to weak digital skills, and 79 percent of respondents—including 84 percent of in-house private sector employees—said HTML and coding were among their greatest weaknesses. Digital skills are weakest among senior PR pros; only 12 percent of professionals with over 21 years of industry experience felt confident in their social and digital media management skills.

Because senior executives lack the expertise and experience to properly integrate social media into their strategies, they delegate it to junior employees. By definition, those junior staffers lack PR experience, but public relations expert Stuart Bruce said teaching a PR expert social media and digital skills is easier than teaching PR skills to a social media expert.

Obsessed with media relations

The survey also indicates that PR seems stuck in its traditional media relations role, with 76 percent of respondents saying they still spend some or most of their time on media relations.

The rise of digital marketing has opened new opportunities for the profession and blurred the lines between PR and marketing. PR and advertising are also blurring. You can find PR executives making media buying decisions and marketing executives handling media relations.

Savvy PR veterans are distressed at the profession’s inadequate digital skills and lethargic efforts to seize digital and social media opportunities. They say it’s well beyond the time for PR to expand it responsibilities beyond building relationships with journalists and pitching press releases.

PR’s turf has evolved from earned media into a hybrid of paid, owned and earned media. Observant PR pros appreciate the importance of the changing environment and are urging the profession to embrace the new digital and social media environment.

Tackle these 4 areas

In an article for AdWeek, Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications, argues that PR pros need to focus more on four new opportunities if they are to thrive.

1. Content marketing . Half all of U.S. companies plan to increase their content marketing budgets this year, according to SkilledUp.com survey. However, 42 percent of companies report lacking the skill sets to implement content marketing.

The requirements of a successful content marketing program–strategy development, storytelling, writing and media placement–match best with the skills of PR professionals.

2. Paid media . In the past, PR typically left paid media to advertising agencies and focused on earned media placements.

Now, enlightened PR agencies are taking on adverting or marrying their PR services with their advertising counterparts. Paid placements, such as native advertising or sponsored content, are better developed by PR professionals.

3. Measurement . PR traditionally counted the number of media placements and total circulation to measure PR’s value.

PR pros must now adopt more sophisticated measurement strategies: measuring the impact of media placements, setting goals that support key business objectives and tracking performance against those goals.

4. Social media . PR must employ social media as a strategic tool and move away from the broadcast model of communications to a dialogue model. This move involves engaging influencers and communicating directly with consumers. Social media conversations become as important as placements.

Lack of knowledge about social media puts PR pros at a serious disadvantage in competing with other departments for authority over new communications strategies, technologies and techniques.

To thrive in the future and to assure knowledgeable oversight of social media communications, senior PR executives must quickly strengthen their digital skills.

How can you do this? Attend conferences and webinars, read the literature, participate personally on social media and follow content marketing, measurement and social influencers.

Most important of all, hire millennials experienced in social media and empower them to teach you. Be open and teachable. That’s the best way to quickly ascend the learning curve of social and digital media.

William Comcowich is the founder, president and CEO of CyberAlert. A version of this article originally appeared on the company’s blog.

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