I’ve applied for Social Security and Medicare and, yet, have come to the realization I’m not the retiring type. Many of my friends are retired and seem to fill their days playing golf. In the nice weather, like today, I work at home out on my deck, which overlooks a cart path on the neighboring golf course. I watch the same guys go past ever day and wonder how they do it. I like golf and I play a decent game, but I’d be bored stiff trudging around 18 holes day in and day out.
Work is its own reward, as the saying goes, so I enjoy coaching my team leaders, brainstorming, mentoring younger staff, and most of all, learning. Things are so different in the public relations industry than when I joined Burson-Marsteller the first week of January, 1981. Candidly, it’s been a little hard to keep up at times with all the innovation. But I notice that staying tuned in helps me think more clearly and I discover many of our old school techniques can be very useful today. Some things, I guess, never go out of style.
Back in the day of three martini lunches with reporters and editors of the New York Times, Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal, it was all about personal relationships and trust. I always thought of media relations as a free service smart journalists could employ to their benefit. That’s not really changed in the digital age. Web site editors, bloggers, online journalists – the good ones at least – rely on we PR pros to present them with good ideas based on facts. A trustworthy relationship plus quality content equals success, then and now.
We used to wait for a weekly news magazine or some long term “shelter book” to see what kind of play our clients were going to get on their pages. That’s not really changed either, except that rather than waiting days and weeks it’s hours and sometimes minutes. The old question, “Great! What did you do for me today?” puts enormous pressure on digital PR pros trying to keep that client happy. I don’t envy them.
I remember that one of the first jobs I had was to review news clippings and tabulate circulation numbers for our client activity reports. Talk about old school! Now we present analytics that are far more comprehensive and reflective of a campaign’s success or failure. In that regard, PR pros today are held to a considerably higher performance standard. It’s not enough to say your news release generated a couple of million “impressions.” Clicks and shares are the coin of the realm now.
Television and radio are far different, too. Where once there was an unassailable wall between editorial and advertising, the two are commingled freely today. Pay-to-play is readily accepted, something unthinkable just 15 years ago. Still, earned media remains one of the most valued return on investments for our clients. There is no substitute for the credibly attached to a high-profile story, interview, product review, or a positive op-ed appearing in influential media outlets.
Speaking of influence, “influencers” have always been part of this industry dating back to at least the 18th century when, for example, tailors would outfit well known ladies and gentlemen in their latest styles so they could wear them to big social gatherings. Today, influencers essentially do the same thing, except on social media. A common and related tactic today (and back in the day) is to secure celebrities to attend media events and stunts to attract the attention of producers and reporters. It’s old school but highly effective.
One trend I have noticed is over-reliance on social media to the exclusion of other media. Marketers, especially those targeting consumers, continue to spend big money on television and radio advertising. It stands to reason, then, that they understand and appreciate their value. Thus, PR pros should incorporate TV and radio tactics in their programs. It seems to me that a skilled product manager spending millions on TV and radio looking over the results of a PR campaign that contains only social media will lead him or her to logically wonder where the complementary broadcast publicity is. And the good news: there have never been more opportunities to place clients on TV and radio.
It’s a different PR world in many ways and, yet, familiar to me, too. When I speak to PR students at a local university, I tell them this is a career that’s exciting, fun, challenging, creative and dynamic. I started out as a lowly assistant account executive and ended up traveling the world and working with some truly wonderful people. If they come in and pay their dues, I tell them, they will eventually find themselves never doing the same thing two days in a row. My friends who are bankers, lawyers and accountants can’t always say that.
Oops. I’m late for my tee time!