By Mina Borhani
Once upon a time, there was a sharp young man named Gary who lived happily in the suburbs of San Jose, California. Gary worked in the PR department of San Jose Water Company, a public utility provider. He had a degree in Communications and joined the Water Company right after graduation in early 1990’s. Within a few years, Gary was challenged in carrying out his duties since it just wasn’t the way he was taught back in college. As his little town was going through massive developments thanks to close proximity to Silicon Valley, he was experiencing the consequences in his daily work.
This is the story of Gary, the PR guy, and how his professional life has changed since then.
In the good old days of 1990’s, pre-digital age, Gary’s job was pretty much straight forward. He used to prepare media releases -old school way- for the water company. Press releases were typically made up of dense blocks of text, overly long headlines and complex jargon. He had to blast that press release to every journalist he knew in hope for media coverage.
By the end of 1990’s, his company launched their first website. It gave Gary a new medium to communicate his message via this platform. He started to routinely make company announcements on their corporate blog. The communication was faster and Gary was able to convey the message directly and without journalist mediation. It still wasn’t enough!
In 1997, when Business Wire introduced Smart News Release which incorporated basic multimedia in the releases. Even though most major wire services like PR Newswire didn’t include multimedia components in releases up until years later, it was the beginning of a movement. Gary’s press releases became slightly more visual hence more interesting than before. It still wasn’t perfect. He was looking for more engaging ways to communicate. After all, as a public utility provider, they were vastly involved in the community yet far from the reach of their audience.
Thanks to the developments in digital media, corporate communications shifted from a monologue to a two-way conversational communication. “While initially controversial, by 2006 it became commonly accepted that social media had an important role in public relations” . It became Gary’s medium of choice to not only communicate but to connect, engage and converse with the public audience. It even changed the way he crafts press releases.
Now, Gary uses digital-friendly formats of news releases that are shorter, snappier and designed for use in social channels. Instead of a wordy press releases, he has shifted to more engaging formats like video, infographics, tweets, pins and snaps. He has also mastered digital communication through segmentation and targeting on social media. Now, he is even able to customize his message for different audiences categorized by their behavior, interests and location. For him, such precise messaging was never possible to this degree before.
Soon enough, Gary realized that social media wasn’t all good news. The downside was that in many ways, it made his job more complicated. The two-way conversation meant that he had to be available for conversation 24/7. Consumers expected to be answered quickly and in a personal manner. It became increasingly harder to control the PR message while keeping up with the loads of feedback, comments and inquiries. Luckily for him, there were a handful of tools available to make his life as a PR master easier.
Gary has gone further and now uses social media to build relationship with journalists, bloggers and Influencers. He keeps track of their writing and their personal and professional interests; he even has informal conversations with them. Gary “no more takes a shotgun approach, blasting news releases and e-mail pitches to a broad list of reporters who would never be interested”. He is smart and he knows exactly who would be interested in what story.
Now in his forties, Gary is Keeping himself well up to date with digital and social media technologies. He has seen first hand how the digital technology has transformed public relations. Gary, as any other smart PR professional, has learnt to embrace this change to the best of his abilities.
Disclaimer: The character of the story is purely fictional!