Traditional PR Doesn’t Die, It Adapts

In 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations defined public relations as “the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest.” Today, dictionary.com defines public relations as “the practice of creating, promoting, or maintaining goodwill and a favorable image among the public toward an institution.” Both definitions, though slightly different in content, have the same concept: a company needs to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with the public. But what’s the best way to do this? 

My name is Michelle Lee and I am a marketing/public relations intern at BD-PRo. As a result, I’ve been reading up a lot about effective PR. Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about how traditional PR is dead. Now as I mentioned earlier, I’m just an intern. I’ve just started building up my experience in this field so I can’t say I really know much. However, coming from Carnegie Mellon where we pride ourselves in our analytical skills, I can’t help but begin to develop my own theories. Might as well put my education to the test, right? 

What I think is that people are too quick to jump the gun. Sure. Social media is the up and coming; trust me, I know. (I am a senior in college after all.) Of the 500+ million Facebook users, more than 50% log in everyday; 35 billion tweets are sent out daily. I don’t think people are really arguing about their rising importance. It means shorter lead times, more analytical tracking tools, and cheaper options with possibilities of viral marketing. But to completely start dismissing traditional forms? I think it’s a bit extreme.

Changes are gradual. Stop saying “traditional PR is dead” and talk about the evolving state of PR. Has PR ever been traditional in the first place? I mean, everything’s always adapting right? So technically, wouldn’t PR just be altering once again? Dead is so final, so permanent. A lot of articles throwing around words like “traditional” and “dead” aren’t realizing that they are still using “old school” techniques for “new school” applications.

My main argument revolves around the premise that the practice remains the same. You will always need to establish a concrete strategy with identified target audiences and topics. You will always need to establish relationships. How best to reach them may change but the thought process behind it is timeless. The relationships built still depend on your communication tactics whether it be through print or online media.

The solution (from an outsider looking in): Combine traditional PR with new PR for the ultimate balancing act.

  1. Extend your reach.

From what I’ve researched, traditional PR gets you the older crowd, new PR the younger. Not everyone has transitioned as well to the newest technological innovations, but with the changing times, if you don’t start targeting tech-savvy crowds then you’re losing a huge potential market.PewResearchCenterfor the People & the Press conducted a survey in December of 2010 and asked 1,500 adults “Where do you get most of your news about national and international issues?” With the ability to cite 2 sources, 41% said the internet, 66% said television, 31% said newspapers, and 16% said radio. Yes, the internet as the main news vehicle has nearly doubled from 34% to 65% for 18-29 year olds since 2007 and newspaper readership has decreased from 34% in 2007 to 31% currently, but keep reading the numbers. People over 35 are overwhelming using television as their main source; the second most popular for 50+ is the newspaper. This means the majority is still getting information from at least one traditional source. The declining rates for newspaper, television, and radio for all age groups may imply a future obsolete state but right now, they are still extremely relevant. And with an average declining rate of television and radio sources for 50+ at less than 1% per year, ‘traditional’ sources are going to be relevant for quite some time. Just using one or the other is to sacrifice potential.

  1. Increase your credibility and your brand reputation.

Traditional PR sources are credible and they’re going to stay that way. (Hopefully there are no arguments with that one despite the Murdoch scandal…) With the availability for anyone to be published on the web, take me as a case in point, the credibility of online sources is slightly lacking. A plan that dips into both traditional and up-and-coming means credibility that reaches, hence extending your brand name. Establish relations in both ‘classifications’ so that you will be trustworthy and for widening your scope.

  1. Make it come back full circle.

PR seems to be one big, giant feedback loop. Newspapers write stories, bloggers comment on newspaper stories, newspapers then comment on those said bloggers. In 2008, research from Cision Media discovered that there was a 32% increase in the mention of blogs from 2007 for a total of 13,066 mentions in some of the biggest publications out there including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Traditional sources are recognizing the increasing popularity and influence of online media and many have already added electronic versions of their publications. This means if you establish a connection: you’re in print and you’re online. What’s great about that too is that newspapers do their research- they can help identity worthwhile bloggers so your work load is slightly lessened. So, follow where your audience is going: around and around. You’ll be more likely to hit them with what you want at least once and hopefully more than once. Repetition of marketing messages is key to any company brand building effort.

Hopefully this made some sort of sense to someone. As a final effort to summarize my longer-than-expected post, my thought is to ditch the “traditional” and “new” adjectives when describing PR and to accept that PR just is; it will always be changing and will always continue to adapt.

What do you think?

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