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February 16, 2011
It's a Brand New Bag for PR Pros
Marketers, listen up: the media is and will continue to be a mess ... forever. The landscape is no longer dominated by a bunch of white wealthy guys smoking cigars, but by that 17-year-old with a blog about electronics read by 20,000 or the stay-at-home Dad who writes eNewsletters about techniques for other stay-at-homes.

How does this affect every one of us? For one, content now moves upstream. Anyone can affect, drive, or create news now. The upshot of this “We The Media” paradigm is that as The New York Times shrinks to matchbook size, anyone with tech capabilities can deliver stories, unfiltered, to whoever wants them—a sure threat to the erstwhile big guys, and one with significant implications for those of us who practice what used to be called "media relations."

Welcome. We now exist as practitioners who rule—as opposed to being the ones who send out information we “hope, cross fingers,” will take care of our needs, or our clients’, or our bosses’. Over the next decade media will begin turn to us as actual sources, rather than just as conduits for facts or spin. What does that mean? How will this change manifest? The following are six rules of effective future media relations to illustrate what it will take to become the source journalists will depend on in the months/years ahead.

Releases must feature reportage. From the beginning of PR time, our folks have been tasked with writing releases and distributing them. Sounds good, right? Not anymore. The material we put out will need to have real knowledge ("intelligence") reporters can use in stories—not pre-crafted material that, well, just sounds good. One factor driving this shift will be continued newsroom downsizing, with journalists becoming desperate for help with original reportage as they do triple duty.

Relevance must drive every pitch. When we pitch in the near future, everything will be about relevance. Filter, man. We must carefully consider our own words; it will no longer be about the perfect quote or comma placement. Now it's the facts as they're relevant to specific, niche audiences online (and off). Since we are placing our own words into a vertical repository (e.g., narrowcasting versus a wire service release), personalized thoughts will be paired with other relatable messages—so we reach micro-targeted audiences, as well as those you never even considered. Unlike now, when throwaway lines disappear into the ether as rhetoric or vapor, we will need to have a tailored, audience-specific tale to tell.

Research must occur online and off. We will need to comprehend a lot more than we do today about clients, their businesses, and customers. What's more, we will need to reach out and touch actual consumers. Translation: For the first time, we will have to climb out of our comfy ivory tower ("We deal with the media") and get our hands super dirty. Consequently, we have to get to know customers and discover what they're saying about products firsthand. As "the PR person," we need to be able to solve customer problems by bringing them directly to those who can make changes in the company. That's new. How will we find them? Really? It’s so easy to do this—easy to find people, easy to see how good they are—and don’t rely on Klout. Just saying “hey that person is popular” equals s**t.

By going online and forming groups and asking people—that’s another way. Unlike today, where real-world focus groups are so coldly depended upon, soon (real soon) we’ll be in virtual worlds where customers will bitch us out like they do in real life—or hopefully compliment a beloved products' nascent features and cool developments.

Response must be rapid and brief. People who report, blog, post, or write in any way about a company or client will respond only if you're speedy—and terse. That means no next-day callbacks. That means constant access. It also means words have to make an absolute point on someone's device without having to scroll. If what you say is too long for a window, it won't translate into a strong sell for a reporter, blogger, cyberjournalist, or whatever you want to call that online influencer.

Rankings must inform outreach. Everything will be more than ever about 1s and 0s and how they are spread around. If we can get your words onto a single screen, the PR person will drive revenue—in the form of more clicks for the reporter. Definition of viral: We are not only spreading a message or brand, but we are also working WITH the big cheese spreader (blogger, publisher, journalist, newsletter biggie, guy who talks a lot) so he stays in business—and the way he will do that in the future will be via clicks, and more clicks, and even more clicks. You eat what you kill and if you're up in the rankings, it means you got results!

Skill set must do more. We need to be multimedia producers (format and quality content), we need to understand search, we need to understand analytics on the back end, we need to be strategists, we need to be tacticians, we need to be story tellers. Holy s**t. Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan and put your spouse and kids to bed! Master a core set, but understand how they all work together.

And yeah—right above I used the word easy. But if you find someone who seems too easy, they are probably not doing their job. It's fast and easy for Disney to send Chris Brogan on a cruise. But how in the f**k is he going to sell cruise tickets?

On the other hand, if someone is passionate about “a” subject you need to be in touch with her if she happens to cover YOUR field.

It’s a new world, baby! As we get to the bottom of the first month of the new decade (the world did not start at zero), changes are afoot for PR practice pros, and faster than ever before.

Tweet me @laermer for more.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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