Jumping into social media is easier for some than for others. As a tech PR pro – someone who studied PR in college and then spent 8 years in the agency business before taking the leap to the client side this summer – social media represents a bit of a scary new world. Valeria asked me to share my thoughts on the state of PR, so I thought I’d begin with a personal story.
I recall clearly the first and only time it happened to me. I had established a great rapport with a newspaper reporter in my client’s hometown. The client was a recognizable name, and was important to my firm – it was a long-term relationship client and one that represented significant billings. I did everything my mentors and teachers had told me to do – I served as a resource for this reporter, helping provide access to the client when he needed it, keeping him in the loop on important news in advance of it happening, etc.
You could say it was a media relations success story, until… one day, my buddy at the paper calls. He received an inquiry from a reader about my client’s technology and a supposed “glitch.” I knew enough about my client to know that the glitch was only a perceived one and not something consumers should worry about. I also knew about an educational campaign my client and its partner – the one providing the gadget to consumers – had developed to help ease consumer concern and confusion about the issue. So, I mentioned it and shared with him what I knew.
Now, the reporter did call and tell me he planned to write a column, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when the story ran, citing me by name as the spokeswoman. It was actually a harmless comment – a positive comment – and my client was not upset. But the partner made a bit of a stink and of course I received some ribbing. The story was also picked up across the country in syndication and month after month new hard copy clips would arrive at the office, stirring up more teasing.
From that point on, I approached conversations with the media much more cautiously. This was in fact a defining moment in my career. With every future discussion, I would begin with some type of comment discrediting my own expertise and reminding the reporter or editor that I was just a PR person and to get the real scoop, he must talk to my expert client. This resulted in a ton of client briefings – I considered this success as an agency PR person. Truth is, in the past 8 years, I have become an expert in many tech subjects, from data center technology and disaster recovery to RFID and supply chain tech.
This is why social media, blogging, Twittering and the like may feel so foreign to PR reps. In recent weeks there has been plenty of debate on the state of PR, how social media is changing the landscape, why PR people are missing the mark on interacting with bloggers, etc. Check out posts by Steve Rubel, Perkett PR (on what makes a “Web 2.0 agency”) and Nicole Jordan at bub.bilico.us to dive deeper. No question, we should be thinking about social media tools and how best to interact with our core audiences and influencers as part of our PR programs – I think most everyone agrees on that point.
Yet, what interests me most is why some of us may be hesitant to jump in. How often are PR people encouraged to have their own opinion? We are counselors, skilled at developing messages and talking points our clients will deliver. Can we have our own opinions? Do clients want their agency PR team out talking about them? Does this create a new liability concern for agency management? Do bloggers want to hear from PR people (outside of the many conversations about our own industry)?
Of course, there are many very talented PR pros out there who are ahead of the curve. At my last firm I had several amazing colleagues who were blogging, podcasting and Twittering in their spare time about topics near and dear to them personally. But in my experience, this level of personal participation is far from the norm.
Maybe other agency PR reps share in my anxiety as a result of years of training to hide behind the client as just an agency person. How can others like me get over this hurdle when it comes to social media? Well, it’s as easy as jumping in and giving it a try. I’m on Twitter, I follow blogs on several personal and professional topics using Google Reader, and I stay connected with my networks through LinkedIn and Facebook. With this post, I’m officially setting aside my PR self-doubt and daring to share my story and opinion!
Do you have a story like mine? Are you hesitant to jump in? Are you an information collector, not a content generator? Do you want to keep up with the changing face of PR? Pardon the cliché, but the train is moving full steam ahead, and now’s the time to get on board.
Christine Needles is immersed in the world of tech B2B public relations. After 8 years as a PR-agency insider, she recently joined the Governance communications team at CA, Inc. Today she's most curious about the chaotic intersection of traditional marketing/PR with emerging social communities and corporate use of these channels. Christine is also fascinated by the psychology behind how PR people and the companies they serve relate to the communities they hope to influence. In her spare time, Christine is running circles around Capitol Square in Madison, WI, as she trains for a half marathon, and trying to keep balanced through regular yoga practice.