The PR industry that is focused on high tech has been going through a continual transformation since the early 2000’s when the Internet started taking center stage for publicity. I find a lot of startups concluding they don’t really need it since they can use social media channels instead. When they answer my questions about what they are using social media for, I usually tell them “that’s PR”. The fact that PR stands for “public relations” causes people to think a particular way but shouldn’t confuse the key purpose and intent of the function: to get important messages out to important constituents while establishing your brand. In the old days this typically centered on press releases and media pitching to get coverage in various types of print publications. But the world has forever changed.
So what exactly has changed? Well, almost everything. But that doesn’t render PR useless, it just causes it to take on a different form or use different techniques to accomplish the same objectives. For example, you still need to produce periodic press releases but now you optimize the narrative to help support your SEO efforts. It’s also still helpful to have a chronology of press releases on your website for visitors to better get to know you and follow your history. And we all know how important your website is as a selling tool.
As for pitching for media coverage, it’s still important and highly valuable but probably focuses more on online coverage than traditional print. Also, the physical act of pitching an editor or beat writer often is complemented with online syndication. Who cares. Same ultimate objective of getting coverage by outlets and channels that are meaningful to your target audience.
A key question in my mind is where social media fits in. Social channels now represent a critical vehicle for getting your word out. And if this is the main way you are using social media, then why not bundle it together with your PR strategy? In other words, don’t think of them as separate entities. Messages need outlets. Whether you have an in-house PR rep or use an agency, the aggregation of all outbound messaging channels makes complete sense.
Where this gets a little fuzzy is when social media is also tied in closely with demand generation. In other words, using social channels to drive your audience to a webinar, event or free trial. And maybe you’re advanced enough to have a marketing automation platform to provide lead scoring and nurturing. All of that is usually best managed by your demand generation marketing team or agency because their brain is wired to think about integrated demand gen campaigns, lead tracking/scoring, conversion rates and other things that are at least somewhat different from the way a PR person would think about it. No problem. Think of social media as a “channel” just like a phone call or an email. You can use these channels for demand generation purposes or branding/promotional purposes.
It’s true that PR and demand gen experts have been working closely together for a long time. But with social media marketing having one leg in each camp, some companies will struggle to decide how they want to organize and/or how they want to go about using agencies and freelancers. If you’re a startup or early stage company, this doesn’t matter very much because you’ll have very limited resources (in-house or outsourced) that will need to wear multiple marketing hats anyway.
Here’s what’s important, regardless of what you call it:
- Crafting your external messages in such a way that they are understandable and compelling
- Understanding your buyer and user personas in such a way that you can figure out where they go for trusted information
- Building a relationship with your community of customers and prospects
- Building a relationship with your most important media outlets
- Leveraging a variety of channels for getting your messages to market
- Developing a content marketing strategy that focuses on thought leadership and helpful information rather than product pitches
For another interesting insight into the symbiotic tension between PR and social media, check out this blog post from OnStartups.com: http://bit.ly/R7CdMj
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