The term “public relations” is said to have first been documented in a speech to congress, made by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807. But, it wasn’t until World War I that the term materialized as an official profession. During this time, the U.S. organized publicity for its wartime objectives by establishing the first-ever Committee on Public Information. Members of this elite committee distinguished what they were doing from German propaganda by establishing that their communications should be a two-way dialogue that educated and instilled support among U.S. citizens instead of fear.
Among these original committee members were Ivy Lee—the creator of the first-ever press release—and Edward Bernays—who is credited with becoming the world’s first public relations theorist. These men are considered the founding fathers of the industry we know today—an industry that has substantially changed over time and certainly in recent years!
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the shifts since Lee’s and Bernays’ time:
- Public relations messages were originally product and brand focused. Today, they are about the consumer.
- Public relations messages to audiences were one-way. Today, they are two-way conversations without a middle man—brands and consumers talk directly with one another.
- Traditional news media once waited for public relations people to pitch story ideas and send press releases. Today, they—like everyone else—turn to the Internet for leads and inspiration.
- Public relations was its own silo for brands and agencies with its own goals, and strategies and measurement objectives. Today, PR overlaps with marketing, social media and customer experience design to achieve common business objectives that are measurable in a variety of ways.
Are there steps can you take to improve your public relations? Consider trying some of these ideas Gary McCormick, former chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), has outlined:
Focus on strategies, not tactics.
It’s easy to jump to the conversation of whether your public relations efforts should be focused on a blog or pitching press releases. But, if you do that, you’ve missed the big picture. Start with identifying and aligning public relations goals with your company and marketing goals.
Include all the tools available.
From social media channels to personal relationships, use the public relations tools at your disposal—but, do so wisely and based on the strategies you outlined. If these tools are new to your team, kick off a training initiative by handing out imprinted megaphones to symbolize spreading the word or rally towels to unite the team around the new PR initiative.
Integrate and innovate.
Silos are gone. Cross-departmental efforts are the new norm, and it is critical that your PR efforts work in conjunction with your other marketing and customer service initiatives. Get teams thinking as one with emblazoned pennants featuring an all-for-one message or custom stickers promoting “Team PR.”
Embrace the new normal.
It’s a fast-paced, real-time world and public relations efforts need to keep up. With the right tools and strategies in place, it will be easier to maintain this level of dialogue, but it still requires a “now” mentality.
Deliver more listening points than talking points.
Previously PR professionals wrote and delivered talking points. Today, public relations is more about listening and responding with clarity and facts at all levels of the organization. Unfortunately, that can be challenging because research suggests we only “hear/remember” 25-50% of what is said. To help your frontline customer service staff become better listeners, hold active listening exercises or training. And, keep listening top of mind-with messaged Klip Notes that remind them to listen and ask great follow up questions.
Maintain your individual brand ethics.
Above all, stay consistent and transparent. Remember that nature abhors a vacuum, so fill it with the truth and value-based dialogue versus the old cliché of “spin.” Your customers are savvy enough to know or to find out what the real scoop is. Better you tell them first.
Interested in learning more about the new face of PR? Download our Blue Paper® or podcast, The Future of PR, from our website.