Last week I was asked a question that I would have struggled to answer one year ago: “So, what exactly is PR?”

 Truth be told, I decided to take a post grad in PR because I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. Now I feel that I have found the perfect profession for me.

 In the past year I have learned so much about a profession that I couldn’t even define. I’ve learned about the power of social media in PR, that goals and objectives are not the same thing, and how to write concise phrases in the active voice.

Instead of fearing the workforce, like I did one short year ago, I am excited to get out there and get my feet wet. So as the school year comes to a close, stay tuned for updates on the lessons that I will learn in my career.

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Journalists are flooded daily with press releases, most of which they never have time to read. Consumers are also inundated with advertisements everywhere they turn. PR practitioners have the daunting task of getting their company’s message out there. In order for their message to be noticed amongst all the competition, the PR practitioner must be forward thinking and creative. One approach companies are starting to take to reach its stakeholders is the creation of a company blog.

            Wayne Hurlbert, of Blog Business World, said in his blog:

 “Blogs provide a unique and personal way to communicate with current and prospective customers. By talking to people, in a conversational manner, a blog puts a human face on a company that is difficult to duplicate in any other way.”

As consumers become more aware of the business practices behind the brands they support, the past PR practice of controlling the message is no longer effective. The best vehicle to create an open dialogue between company and consumer is through a blog. Hurlbert explains that the conversational voice of the blogger changes the image of the company from being a “faceless corporation” into a company that is run by real people with real thoughts and ideas. 

Now that businesses are becoming more transparent, and public acceptance of controlled messages are a thing of the past, the average person has more power than ever before. Instead of filing a grievance to a company that may never be heard, average people have the power to appraise companies on a blog, for the whole world to see. According to an article in the Economist, employees are using blogs to draw attention to internal disputes and to win public support, putting pressure for employers to make changes before a strike is needed.

Web 2.0 gives the average person to broadcast pretty much whatever they like to the rest of the world. The whole concept of citizen journalism completely changes the way that journalists and PR practitioners should approach their work. In Joseph Thornley’s post, Citizen Journalism: Weapon of ‘Mass’ Destruction?, he mentions Angus Frame of Globeandmail.com, who believes that comments received from its readers greatly enhances the newspaper’s content and its relationship with its readers.

Thornley also referenced Mark Evans, who claimed that there aren’t many citizen journalists out there, rather “citizen observers.” Whatever you call them, people who previously had no voice, now have a huge impact on journalism and PR.

With the dramatically increased power of the consumer, PR practitioners must be humbled and no longer try to control the message. If we are honest and transparent with our stakeholders, we will gain the respect of the public. If not, the public will find out and it will be extremely detrimental to our organization. As PR practitioners, we must give up trying to control the message, and join in an active conversation with our stakeholders.

Everybody has heard of the concept of six degrees of separation. In PR, especially with the growing popularity of social media, the gap is quickly narrowing.

Every time we meet someone new, no matter what position they are in, we are making a valuable connection. Down the road, these connections can prove to be beneficial in our professional careers.

However, I would like to stress the importance of building relationships that are not based on ulterior motives. Networking has its merit, but only if it is done in a genuine manner. It is obvious to people of influence if someone is only talking to them to get something from them.

Let’s use a personal example. My father is the owner of the highly coveted Maple Leafs season’s tickets. A co-worker, let’s call him Jake, only talks to me if he wants me to get him hockey tickets. Not surprisingly, I have never given him hockey tickets, whereas I would be happy to get them for any of my other co-workers.

I think this is the same with networking events. The person at the event who is talking to everyone about common interests will be seen as more genuine than the person who is running around trying to get the business cards of the most influential people in the room. Chances are the people who are genuine will have more people trying to help them succeed.

As the school year is ending, I feel that I have made a lot of valuable connections in my classroom. Whether they become CEOs of large corporations or entry-level employees in a small firm, I know that they will help me succeed the best they can. In return, I will also do the best I can to help them out.

So class (if you are reading this) if there is ever anything you need, please contact me. I hope to one day be a valuable connection for more than just hockey tickets.

My first exposure to blogging was when my friend kept a blog telling her family and friends about her trip to Spain. In this sense it was a type of diary. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that a blog could be used in business to build brand awareness and consumer loyalty. 

Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group, came to talk to our class about the use of social media in business. Today, many organizations have their own blogs, but very few understand how to use them effectively.

As advertising becomes less and less effective, companies need to find new ways of getting their name out there. Web 2.0 gives companies opportunities to do this like never before, but it is important to know how to use social media effectively to get desired results.

As Maggie Fox said, corporate blogging is about creating a forum for discussion between the company and its consumers. The conversation does not have to be about the product or service the company provides, and it is usually more effective if it doesn’t.

Companies must learn to treat blogs like they treat relationships. Personally, I prefer to talk to people who actively listen to what I have to say and try to find a common bond, than people who talk only about themselves and how great they are.

The same goes for a corporate blog. If a company uses it’s blog as a form of advertisement, it will not be effective. A company must know the interests of its market and build a discussion forum based on that. A car company could create a discussion forum for car fanatics to gather and discuss cars in general. A hotel chain could build a discussion forum for people who like to travel.

When companies use blogs as a blatant act of self-promotion, consumers are not likely to want to build a relationship with them. Companies must first listen to what their consumers are talking about, and find a way to join in the conversation.

Many people think that all it takes to hunt is a gun and a funny looking hat. Some of these people get lucky, but most of them come home empty-handed. To be a successful hunter, you must plan carefully and know your prey.

The job hunt is much the same. Most people send out hundreds of resumes and think that it’s enough. Months later, they are still unemployed and blame it on their lack of connections.

Many of us have heard “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Especially as students, we do not have much relevant work experience to entice potential employers with. For us especially, it is important to build connections.

As PR professionals, it will be our job to build relationships with key audiences. Why not start now by building relationships with those who can help us find a job?

Whether it’s volunteering, joining professional organizations such as CPRS and IABC, or simply talking to people who are in the field, these working relationships will prove to be invaluable when we set out on our first hunt to find a job as a PR practitioner.

When studying public relations, there is one question that always comes up: how is public relations different from marketing?

Especially when it comes to doing PR for a consumer brand, the line between marketing and public relations is often blurred. We are both trying to change the attitudes and behaviours of our audience through driving brand awareness and key messaging.

The difference between marketing and PR is that marketing is a one-night stand. The goal of public relations is to build lasting relationships with a company’s stakeholders. Marketers create advertisements that run for a few months, before they are forgotten.

When reading the main page of the Edelman website, I was really intrigued with what Richard Edelman had to say about the need of consumers to build relationships with their brands:

“Today, I believe, we’ve entered the era of mass personalization. People expect far greater participation in their favorite brands and companies. They also want news and information when they want it and how they want it, and are increasingly skeptical and distrusting of those in positions of authority[…]We believe that the traditional model of top-down communications, where 90%+ of a marketing budget is spent on advertising to talk at people, is simply no longer effective.”  ( http://www.edelman.com/about_us/welcome/ )

Consumers are bombarded with millions of advertisements daily and it is a struggle for advertisers to think of new ways for their advertisements to get noticed. Companies are now looking for new ways to promote their brand in order to set it apart from the rest.

Companies must be made aware that the ultimate goal is not to sell–it is to build relationships. When a company builds relationships with their buyers, employees, the media and their community, sales automatically follow.

Although their is a lot of overlap between marketing and public relations, they will never be the same because they are not measured in the same way. A marketing initiative is measured by how much sales have increased, whereas a public relations initiative is measured by the quality of relationships that were built. In the long-run, public relations will have a greater affect on the bottom line.

Today, we have so many methods of communication available to us–all with the purpose of bringing people together. Our world has become a global village, and it is important for us to be able to communicate with those across the world. But what about those across the room?

In a small office, e-mails are sent back and forth between colleagues who share the same cubicle wall. It must take a lot of effort to peek over the partition to ask if a co-worker has completed their assigned task.

With the advent of social networks, an e-mail is sometimes even seen as too personal. And it’s almost unheard of that someone pick up the phone to see how a friend or family member is doing. Why take the effort to dial a number when you can send someone a message to say what you need to say without having to go through the discomfort of voice-on-voice action?

And don’t even get me started on blogs. From my understanding, the purpose of a blog is for people to come together and discuss topics that interest them. Whatever happened to getting together and talking over a cup of coffee?

In the future of communication, is personal contact left out of the equation?

Thoughts?