October 17, 2011
PR Pro Tips, 2011 Edition

I’ve noted before, here and in other places, that the job that keeps our family in pizza and Apple products is communications, media relations, PR, flakdom, whatever you want to call it. I’ve been thinking about how the practice has changed over the years and put down in writing five “pro tips” I think are critical for being successful today, the high-order bits in our current environment. This list is by no means comprehensive, static or ranked in order of importance.

Google Alerts is the best thing to happen to professional communicators since coffee. It is basically impossible to overstate the importance and, for our function, benevolence of this free service from the good people in Mountain View. Literally delivers eyes around the world, always, on everything, watching for even passing references to key search terms across conventional media outlets, blogs, comment threads, you name it. It’s incredible. Depending on the diversity of your business, number of competitors, key individuals and range of interests you could - and should - have dozens of these alerts set up. Do the work on the front end, Google will take care of the rest. You will be all-knowing, all-seeing, in real time. An extraordinary tool that has changed our ability to be timely, smart and on top of things in a 24-hour news cycle. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed with alert e-mails, you can tailor your queries over time, and the delete button is very easy to use on most computers and mobile devices.

Facebook, on a personal level, is optional. Twitter is not. If your subject matter includes consumer brands, products or content, chances are excellent your organization has already launched at least one Facebook “fan” page, and is leveraging this platform to speak directly with its more than 800 million users around the world. That’s fine, that’s increasingly seen as the foundation of a public-facing social media strategy. At the same time, as long as you have a good working understanding of Facebook and what it can do, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you have a personal account to keep current with high school friends, tag photos of your cat or register for Spotify. That – to me – is optional. But being on Twitter, yourself, using Twitter Search and monitoring your carefully constructed feed several times a day is required. Twitter is simply the best wire service ever invented, the best listening agent, the best source of real-time information and discussion we have today, and may ever have. Use the advanced tools to customize searches around things you care about, “save” them, and check in on them frequently. Spend some time banging around on Muck Rack. Follow reporters who cover your company, and others writing on topics of interest or relevance. I’ve written before that Twitter is like the most interesting room in the world, because the whole world is in the room. You need to be there, too.

Writing is king. Being able to write has always been on the short list of crucial skills for successful communicators, for obvious reasons. Much of what we do revolves around answering the question, “What do we want to say?” If you can’t write it, you can’t say it. I would argue that, today, writing is at the top of the list, and may just be the list. Thanks to technology, social media and a variety of other factors, we increasingly live in text. Our behind-the-scenes interactions are far more likely to happen in the form of e-mail, Twitter DMs or SMS messages than actually speaking – gasp – on the phone. And the things we write frequently show up in print, directly, whether or not they are ever actually printed on paper. More than ever before, the things we “say” are the things we write down, and push send on. Being able to write clearly, cleanly and concisely has never been at a higher premium than it is today, and there is no more important skill to focus on and develop.

Relationships matter. It’s true, they still do. Even with how fast everyone is moving. Even with how transitory the media world can be, with people migrating from place to place, shifting beats and jobs, and the emerging ability to go direct to the consumer through social media, websites and other tactics. Relationships with the real people who put fingers to keys and tell stories are still primary to what we do, and they are built on trust, reliability and responsiveness. Whether you are an internal PR person or someone at an agency focused on a handful of accounts, you still need to know who your key people are, they need to know you, you have to read the things they write and understand where they live and how to reach them as quickly as possible. Sending a Twitter DM to a reporter who is only active on the service once every couple of weeks is about as effective as sending an e-mail to a blogger who exists entirely on Twitter and Google+ and declares Gmail bankruptcy once a month with a pejorative mass delete. Pushing a button and hoping for the best does not work in this environment, if it ever did, you need to do the work to make sure the message is appropriately directed, and gets through. Reporters, by and large, want you to have this information, because they don’t want to waste time, either. Sometimes, they’ll even spell it out in writing.

There is no “off” switch. If there ever was, there isn’t today. That doesn’t mean you say goodbye to your family and friends, compile a stack of take-out menus and never dare take your eyes off the computer screen or iPhone again. It just means that paying attention matters, staffing coverage matters, and lulling yourself into an expectation or belief that there is such a thing as downtime or moments that - based on the clock or calendar - aren’t that important is delusional. Find tools that help cut through the clutter, that automate tasks and embed efficiencies to the greatest degree possible. Ribbit Mobile and their instant voicemail transcriptions are the best thing to happen to the phone part of my iPhone since, well, ever. I’ve enjoyed playing around with a new service called ifttt that “puts the Internet to work for you” as well. Remember when Gordon Gekko stood on the beach at dawn with the (tank-sized) cell phone and told Bud Fox that “money never sleeps.” Neither does news, or the need to communicate.

To be continued…

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