Everyone from the CEO to the cleaner should know about this stuff. And they all need to take an interest. There’s no longer any excuse for the MD to delegate the learning and knowledge to someone else without having much of a clue themselves, or for the account assistant to think that it’s the digital guy’s responsibility. PR agencies need to start taking a holistic approach to digital media. And the sooner, the better.
It’s no secret that digital media is changing the face of the communications industry. Nor, therefore, is it a surprise that the skill set of PRs is evolving. Yes, we need to know the media, be able to pitch a story and be creative. But nowadays there are a whole new set of proficiencies for any budding account director to get to grips with. And I’m not sure a lot of PRs are currently up to it.
When I started out in marketing communications way back when, email was hardly used, dial up was positively progressive and mobiles were actually used as phones. Press releases were sent out by post and we actually used to call journalists. (Mind you, Tony Blair was the great hope for the nation and The Spice Girls were the biggest band on the planet when I started out.) But as we move into 2010, not only does a PR need core communications skills, they also need to think like a businessman and have some of the knowledge of a web developer.
The Spice Girls: they’ll tell you what they want, what they really, really want…
So knowing journalists and being able to write is no longer enough for any progressive PR. They need to understand who the influencers are in their clients’ fields and to know where the conversations are taking place. And this only comes from following online news trends, RSS feeds, Twitter streams and reading blogs. PRs need to know about and understand how to use crowdsourcing, and they need to be able to instigate and facilitate debate on social networks. They have to live and breathe the media in all its many forms.
Then there’s the technological angle. Developments such as Sidewiki, real-time search and Google Wave need to be part of a PR’s arsenal. They need to not only understand the rise of the smartphone but also the differences between the iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices. They must gain an understanding of SEO and the benefits of online content working in conjunction with search algorithms; learn what makes good content for blogs and social media channels; be able to blog and to tweet; understand and use RSS, file sharing and popular web applications effectively; and be able to process and understand website analytics.
It’s a hell of a lot to take on. And now recruitment consultants are complaining that there is a shortfall of those with even a general understanding of social media; those who understand blogging or who use Twitter, for example. So where does this leave us?I read a blog post this week that questions whether PR agencies are stuck in their Dickensian ways and, though I may not like the accusation, I can’t help but feel that the writer has a very good point. There’s been much debate recently about whether digital agencies or PR agencies are best placed to provide online communications – it strikes me that if PR is to emerge victorious, as I believe it should, then PRs need to start taking individual responsibility for their own learning and development. Fast.