PR pros must be savvy businesspeople to excel in their roles.
With shrinking newsrooms and crowded digital channels, it’s not enough to share a press release to get your organization’s story out there. You have to be a shrewd media manager—and show your value to the bottom line.
The digital disruption driving this recalibration of the media industry was the focus of a fireside chat at a recent Ragan conference broadcast for our Communications Spotlight podcast.
The chat featured Amy Patti, communications director for the Museum of Science and Industry, and Lee Gordon, director of marine communications and public relations for Brunswick Corporation. It was moderated by Eric Benderoff, senior vice president of brand solutions at Burson Cohn & Wolfe.
Here are some highlights:
Brand managers must be prepared to tell their own stories. Patti concedes that being in a major media market helps the Museum of Science and Industry, because the Chicago Tribune still has a robust Arts and Entertainment section. Communicators in other markets aren’t as lucky.
She says you have to “balance the thinning of the newsroom with the rise of the influencer.”
Gordon agrees, citing ESPN’s model for brand managers looking to create their own news. “ESPN is brilliant at creating their own story, reporting their own story and then watching as other people report on the story they created,” he says.
“How do you take that owned stuff, that blank sheet of paper,” he says, “and turn it into something that other people are going to talk about?”
However, he is strongly against any “pay to play” model. “You don’t need it,” he says.
One key question focused on communicators’ becoming better acquainted with the businesses they represent. Gordon, who works for a publicly traded company, stresses the importance of knowing basic business facts.
“You have to have a working knowledge,” he says. “If I walk into a room and I don’t know what EBITDA is … I’m not doing my job.
“Now more than ever you have to be the jack-of-all-trades … in order to be relevant in those conversations.”
Patti agrees, arguing that sector savvy is a crucial part of measuring results. “In order to prove strategic value to the business, you have to understand the business,” she says. “Otherwise you’re just doing stuff to keep busy.”
She has a few tips for communicators who want to learn more about their business: “Always listen to your earnings calls. Find the person who is responsible for a lot for the data, ask them questions. Have them present to your teams.”
If you are on the hunt for more earned media hits, you must work at telling better stories to break through in a crowded media environment.
To do that, understand your target audience. For Patti and the Museum of Science and Industry, that means getting a handle on what resonates with young people.
“We have had a youth advisory council for a few years now that really helps us,” she says. “I’m 41, and I have no idea how a 15-year-old thinks. … It’s an eye-opening experience to be able to hear directly from them.”
Gordon adds: “We are our own news source. We have to be the ones to say it first. We have to rely on ourselves to communicate to our customers. We can’t rely on the media to be our first line of defense.”
That means traditional media staples, such as an exclusive with a select publication or journalist, might not be the best tactic for your message.
“It’s only exclusive until it comes out of your mouth,” Gordon says.
Both Gordon and Patti say employees are an invaluable resource.
“Your workforce is your greatest untapped potential,” says Patti, “if you are in a non-regulated industry.”
Gordon acknowledges that turning your messaging over to employees requires care and attention. “There is that happy medium between educating them and making sure that they understand that if they are going to post something about your company, it is in a positive light,” he says.
Employee social media use can be a huge part of their value to your organization—but there are caveats.
“We’ve had people who have lost their jobs over what they post on social media,” he says, adding that the company has denied job applicants over social media posts that were found during the hiring process.
To hear more from this fireside chat, or other conversations from recent Ragan events, check out our podcast: