This past weekend I had the exciting chance to make my first trip to the Midwest and visit Chicago. In addition to going to Millennium Park, the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) and Lincoln Park and seeing the Bean and Lake Michigan (I have never seen a Great Lake before), I had the chance to attend DePaul University’s Regional Activity, Transforming Traditional into Digital: The New Ways of PR (@NewWaysPR). I have worked closely with the coordinator, Jamie Harris, since September, and her hard work truly paid off. They had a great conference full of agency tours, intelligent and informative speakers and a career fair. Their organization made the conference flow very smoothly and go off without a hitch. Jamie and the entire conference committee should be very proud of their hard work and success!
I had the chance to sit in on their keynote speaker, Rick Murray, President of Edelman Chicago, Chris Barr, Yahoo! Senior Editorial Director, and Trent Frager, Senior Vice President at GolinHarris. All three speakers were very informative and taught us a lot about the changing landscape of public relations.
Rick Murray, President of Edelman Chicago
It was very interesting to hear Rick Murray speak again. When I was a freshman, he spoke at Boston University’s Regional Activity, and I found it very interesting to hear about the changes in public relations from that time until now. He started off by telling us that the job descriptions for what we’ll all be doing in five years won’t be written for another five years. But that’s what keeps the industry exciting – it is always changing, and there is always something new to learn. As the former president of Edelman Digital, he knows this fact better than anyone.
The three questions that we need to ask as PR practitioners are:
1) What should you destroy?
2) What should you preserve?
3) What should you create?
Public relations is about public engagement and finding out what is important to an audience. Murray said we play in the space of truth and authenticity, and it is important to blend passion and purpose to reach out and truly connect with an audience. The content used to reach an audience will vary from person to person. Some people want their information on their phone, some want it on their iPad and some want it in a newspaper. In a time when there are so many ways to reach out to people, it is important to focus on media, ALL types of media. That means new, old, traditional, everything.
To become a successful PR professional, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
1) Stay on top of what influences culture and the public.
2) Live and work global. (With new ways to immediately reach people around the work, it is important to have a global way of thinking.)
3) Create value every day by thinking about goals you can measure.
4) Find your passion, and chase it. If you are not passionate about your work, you are hurting yourself, your company and your client.
5) Making mistakes is how you grow. Don’t be afraid to make them.
Chris Barr, Yahoo! Senior Editorial Director
Chris Barr gave some valuable advice when writing for the Internet versus written publications. Writing online is VERY different especially when 79% of people scan web pages, and half of adults in the United States read at the 8th grade level or lower. So in order to keep attention for as long as possible, it is necessary to do a few things.
1) Get to the point.
2) Make text scannable.
3) Write for the world.
When organizing your story, it is important to keep a few things in mind in order to once again keep the attention of your readers.
1) Front-load the most important information. People will stop reading at some point on the web page so it is important to get as much information up front as possible.
2) You have 3-5 seconds to hook readers.
3) Limit stories to about 300 words per page.
In a digital world, it is also important to think about how the story will appear on a mobile device. Now more than ever, people are reading news on the go on their cell phones.
Finally, he spoke about headlines and how to write them in a way that will be clear to readers and appear in search engines. His overall advice for this aspect of writing online was that accuracy and clarity are more important than cleverness.
Trent Frager, Senior Vice President at GolinHarris
The focus of this session was crisis communications. In particular, he focused on the impact of social media on a crisis, something that agencies have had to learn over the past few years. There is now a lot less predictability about how your company is perceived in a crisis. Even so, only 20.7% of companies have social media crisis plans set. That is very low considering the impact that social media tools have on a crisis.
From the company’s perspective, it is important to have a few plans in place in case of a crisis.
1) Assess your footprint. Figure out where your audience is on the Internet, and make sure you are interacting with them. When a crisis hits, it will be helpful to have this contact already in place.
2) Find the right team to work on a crisis. Prepare an advisory group. Provide social media response training. Online reputation management requires a strong team.
3) Be able to distinguish “baseline chatter” vs. an escalating issue. Some people may complain online about your company, but it may not truly affect the company’s overall image. It is important to be able to discern between the two.
All three speakers truly hit on the changing landscape of public relations. While it is important to remember to interact with traditional media outlets, it is also important to learn how to converse with an online audience. Whether writing a basic story or dealing with a crisis, there is a completely different set of skills necessary to succeed with social media.
And once again, congratulations to DePaul University on a fantastic Regional Activity!