Traditional PR techniques are not dead

19 August 2010 Posted by Marcie

I am feeling much comforted by this week’s debate about traditional vs new/social media. Thank you to Stuart Bruce for his fighting talk in response to Mashable’s ‘The Future of Public Relations and Social Media’ and to Adam Clyne for his assertion that the PR Week blogs are becoming too focused on digital and social media.

As a PR consultant who firmly believes in a healthy blend of traditional and new media in today’s PR/marketing campaigns, I too have questioned the increasing focus on social media but I’m wondering if we’re now reaching a tipping point; a point at which the balance might be redressed? I too am a firm advocate of social media when it feels right but the tried and tested techniques are highly effective too, as evidenced by the lead case study in the latest PR Week, featuring Thames Water’s ‘Bin it – don’t block it’ campaign. They took a traditional approach to developing and selling the story with a customer survey, news release and photocall which successfully lured key press to a London sewer and a blocked manhole. They then posted a seasonal video on YouTube and a selection of photos on Flickr (think sewermen in Christmas garb!) and the picture was complete.

Their creative, cost effective approach (it only cost £280) resulted in oodles of national coverage – both TV and print. History doesn’t yet relate the impact by way of a reduction in blockages but a big thumbs up to Thames Water’s in-house team – and the sewermen! I wonder if they used a traditional or social media release…?

I ask that because a key element of Mashable’s blog post focused on the changing form of the press release. It made a number of valid points about the need for rich media to bring a story to life and pointed out that stories are increasingly being pitched via the likes of Twitter. But the discussion about the validity of social media releases overlooks an important question. Are your target journalists embracing social media?

Clearly there are some sectors where the majority of journalists are – technology, is a no brainer. But many more are still in the traditional domain. Regional newspapers, for instance, have been slow to catch on. You still need a thought process that makes the case for or against. It is not a ‘given’ yet. So it comes back to the old adage ‘know your media’ – not just what they cover, when they go to print and when not to call but how they prefer to be approached too. There are a number of sources for lists of journalists on Twitter including this from Steve Davies. A quick look will tell you if they’re active, to inform a judgement on your use of that approach. Unless your story is of the ‘stop ’em dead in their tracks’ nature, if you don’t know them, I would still opt for email. Or a phone call testing the angle on them and asking them how they’d like it pitched and packaged? Radical eh?!

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One Comment on Traditional PR techniques are not dead

It’s an interesting debate, and I too enjoyed Stuart’s rebuttal of the Mashable piece. It’s a no brainer really that a blended approach to communications is best.

Right now, communicators need to stick with traditional means while they need traditional media organisations to listen to them. But those organisations are a dying breed and the direction of travel is definitely moving online. Local newspapers are a good example: will there be any, outside the major urban areas, in a few year’s time?

The other thing is not to focus too much on the bit of the web called social media, and instead just think in terms of digital publishing, which includes the social stuff but also traditional web publishing and email too. Will Twitter kill the press release? Of course it won’t. But effective use of putting content online, and promoting it through whatever channels exist at the time makes sense both in terms of reach, effort and cost.

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