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February 4, 2008
What's Our Job, Anyway?

Defining the job or typical workday for a public relations person in the good old days was pretty easy. We showed up in the morning, gathered a pile of lists and got on the phone. Later email came along and made our jobs easier but it was still pretty cut and dry - get the attention of journalists who can get attention for our clients.

These days you'd be forgiven if you can't figure out exactly what it is we are all supposed to do. The days of hammering our message home to journalists and then to our clients' customers is (of course) long over. And hopefully you realize that. So it's worth taking a moment to figure out what is it exactly that we are now supposed to be doing.

For one thing, we are connectors. Remember, it's public RELATIONS. Most of the really good PR people I've known over the course of my career were chronic networkers, always working one or more branch of their personal grapevines. These are the people who have exactly the skill set to survive in the world of social media. Social media is about connections – between friends who are linked on IM or Twitter, between blog authors and their readers, between families sharing pictures on Flickr.

So you’ve spent your career connecting clients to journalists, clients to potential partners and customers and potential clients to your agency. Now your job includes connecting your clients to their customers through web forums, blogs, podcasts, review sites and other online resources. It’s your job now to know not only the journalists who cover your client’s space, but the bloggers and online communities who have a stake in what your client is doing.

Remember that bloggers are not insignificant players in the media game; a bad experience recorded on a blog can end up on the first page of results on Google or Yahoo! for your client. You need to be on top of what’s going on in social media so your client can be kept current.

On the brighter side, bloggers are engaged and motivated individuals who are doing what they do out of a labor of love, unlike journalists who might take a jaundiced eye towards your clients. Building relationships with these folks is vital for your client. On the positive side, they will be happy to get news from your client. On the other hand you many need to lean on them when a crisis occurs.

Your job today is to immerse yourself into social media; to get to know the players in your client’s market who have an interest in what your client is doing. You need to keep the channels of communication open in so many ways than you did in the good old days. No longer is it sufficient to make a call when a client has something to say. Now you have to keep your ears open to hear what others are saying to your client.

The PR people who can make it in the world of social media will have to combine the skill of networking with the skill of listening. Do that and you will do just fine.

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As a veteran public relations executive, technologist and blogger, David Parmet has worked with several diverse companies. His clients include several notable Internet businesses involved in blogging, podcasting and other forms of social media. He is a sought-after speaker, has been interviewed by National Public Radio’s Marketplace, Businessweek, the Austin Chronicle, and has spoken at several conferences. Read his blog.

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