Why Old-School PR Skills Matter In A Digital World

22/06/2016 1:22 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

"Yay!" shouted a colleague. "We just got mentioned in the Insta# post of xxx blogger. I am just waiting for the FB post next." Four years ago, when I was at the helm of work in PR, this surely wasn't category A media for clients. Even today I'd like to believe it is not, but I am open to debate.

Until social media came along, the public relations field had remained relatively unchanged for years. When I began my career in public relations 15 years ago, I would spend countless hours standing by the fax machine sending a press release and waiting for the confirmation report indicating it went through successfully. I would often follow up with a phone call to key reporters--sometimes I'd even visit them and hand them the release inside a press kit we'd have carefully put together.

Over time, e-mail became the preferred method for delivering information/communicating, saving us reams of paper. No matter how I shared my news, one thing remained a constant -- my relationships. I made it a point to personally visit the key reporters in my region who mattered to me. I would find out what interested them, learned a bit about them on a personal level and tailored my story pitches so it never looked like a blast email from me -- or worse yet, a pitch that had nothing to do with their beat.

While the public relations field has evolved with new technology, the fundamentals remain the same -- relationships trump all else.

The advent of social media has surely created a complex universe of channels and segmented audiences and paved the way for another powerful tool in PR. I've happily hopped onto the bandwagon and embraced it as a necessity in today's information-packed world (though I can see I have a long way to go to adopt it seamlessly). Ignoring it is not an option because the conversations are happening whether you are a participant or not.

While most of us who have worked in public relations for 10 years or more agree this is an exciting time for our industry, we remain true to the fundamental tenet of building relationships first. More tools to deliver a message are great; however relationships need to be at the helm of any activity.

Technology and social media has surely made life easier for us. But ironically, a lot of journalists still prefer to be contacted the traditional way -- by e-mail or phone. Experienced PR practitioners have always focused on relationships and always will. A media placement from a press release isn't a bad thing -- in fact, it's good. However, what happens after that news is old? Will that reporter ever call you or consider you/your client for future articles? If you haven't developed a relationship with that person, it's highly unlikely.

While the public relations field has evolved with new technology, the fundamentals remain the same even after all these years (a happy moment for me to see as I set foot back into the field after my sabbatical) -- relationships trump all else. So, is social media a waste of time? That depends on how it's being used and by whom. If used wisely for research, sharing information and engaging with influencers/customers, it's a fantastic tool. Conversely, when used solely as a medium to blast out information it may be a waste of time. A true PR professional knows that a one-way communication channel can never build relationships.

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