After addressing the topic of ghost blogging, 4 Perspectives on 4 Communication Issues enters week two.
This week’s question: How should communication professionals evolve to stay relevant?
It’s been almost a year since Steve Farnsworth hosted my guest post, “A Mass Comms Curriculum Alone Short-Sheets Tomrrow’s PR Pro,” which tackled the question from the perspective of an aspiring communicator.
My premise –
A communications curriculum should straddle business and science as well as the arts because success increasingly depends on interdisciplinary skills.
That’s a good segue into my top 10 ways for communicators to evolve and remain relevant:
1) Keep learning
The acceleration of change in today’s world defies belief.
Apple owns the music industry.
Henry Blodget parlayed media, not finance, to rehab his rep.
Facebook enjoys the clout of a sovereign state.
Shrek is a has-been.
If you don’t make a conscious effort to keep learning, you will be left behind.
It’s that’s simple.
Most of us come out of a mass comms education, which isn’t enough today and definitely won’t be enough tomorrow.
Author Malcolm Gladwell in a TIME magazine interview discussed how Jonathan Weil, at the time with The Wall Street Journal, broke the Enron story. Sure, he was an excellent journalist, but so are thousands of others. It was Weil’s ability to analyze a balance sheet that hung Enron by the toes.
The same concept holds true for communications, even at the tactical level.
For example, quality writing will always be valued.
But combine writing expertise with an understanding of WordPress and SEO, and all of a sudden you’re in a position to develop owned-media campaigns that play at a strategic level.
Try doing this with a news release.
This is one of the best ways to learn.
There’s nothing like a tough audience to “tune one’s senses” to borrow from Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now.
By the way, I’m not only talking about the over-30 crowd.
Young professionals have plenty to share. Developing the finesse to teach the older folks without “bruising” only enhances the process.
3) Build new relationships outside your circle(s)
As a closet introvert, I personally find this one to be tough.
Yet, this is a key component to evolving and staying relevant.
It’s great to command a rolodex of reporters and industry analysts.
Now take this core expertise in relationship-building and connect with people outside your typical circle … with no agenda other than expanding one’s horizon.
Quick vignette in this regard –
I met David Nordfors, a professor at Stanford who created the InJo (Innovation Journalism) movement. The dialog has given me a fresh window into communications. It wasn’t until years later that the relationship connected to a client.
I figure I better save my second example in case I’m challenged by a posted comment.
4) Don’t embrace social media
Before the Lou-Hoffman-is-a-heretic tweets descend on Chris Brogan, hear me out on this one.
Social media provides a means, not an end.
As just touched on, embrace expanding your relationships.
Embrace fortifying your organization’s online presence.
Embrace helping your organization cultivate a sense of community.
Social media represents one of many ways to achieve this.
5) Tell stories
No top-10 list for evolving PR’s game would be complete without hoisting storytelling on the stage.
Whether you’re hawking cupcakes, phones or field programmable gate arrays, the people you’re trying to reach are pummeled by facts, figures and other sundry data.
And it’s only going to get worse.
Building an entertainment dimension into your communications helps rise above the noise.
But it goes deeper than this.
People gravitate toward companies with a personality and a “face,” where it feels like a real human sits on the other side.
That’s exactly what storytelling facilitates.
6) Lose control
I don’t mean rush the stage at a Lady Gaga concert.
I’m talking about giving up the old-fashion quest to control the message.
In spite of all the blather about “engagement,” many practitioners still adhere to a control and command mentality.
And it’s not just about the message.
It’s time to let go in transforming employees into communicators.
Geez, if you can’t trust your employees to post a comment on a blog without divine intervention, I’m not sure the Six Sigma police can solve the issue.
I recognize if you reside at a mega corporation, going off the grid can be career limiting.
So do it on your dime during evenings or over weekends.
Just playing with the ever-growing pool of tools – I’m currently kicking the tires of OpenSite Explorer – represents a form of experimentation.
Here’s another example.
When the Toyota recall hit the fan, we decided to build out a digital property on the PR crisis to experiment with different SEO dials. Within two weeks, the site was showing up on Google page one for most long-tail searches on the Toyota PR crisis. Keep in mind this was achieved with content already in the public domain. We learned a ton that has been applied to client campaigns.
The marriage between art and science in communications is only going to become more pronounced in the future. Experimentation will help you come up the curve.
8) Understand the sales process
Marketers are from Mars.
Sales people are from Venus.
To bridge the two, it behooves PR practitioners to understand what goes into morphing a prospect into a customer.
Picking up the lunch tab for salespeople and folks from your distribution channel results in a positive double whammy: insights on the sales process and an expansion of your relationships.
9) Remember the end game
Our work should build brands, expand public profiles and deliver air cover for sales.
That’s how we stay relevant.
Measuring our contribution to these grand objectives has been a challenge in the past. After all, while cranking out a report that shows 3,232,394 impressions might indeed indicate a job well done, it doesn’t answer the question of how the effort influenced the beliefs of the target audience.
Thankfully, as our role increasingly moves online, there’s more science to measuring how we move the needle. If you’ve never looked under the hood of a Google Analytics console, there’s a good starting point.
Stepping on my digital soapbox for a moment –
It kills me that the logo jockeys continue to dominate branding assignments. As transparency of business operations and depth of content move center stage in building brands, there’s a tremendous opportunity for PR to grab the reins.
Our consultancy has created a methodology for what we call content-driven branding. The phrase might need some work, but the point is content, not looks, should lead the branding charge.
PR is the discipline of choice for content.
10) Smell the carnations
Or java or whatever suits your fancy.
This is a tough business.
It can be a grind.
This final suggestion is as much a reminder to myself as it is for you.
My grandmother on my mom’s side was a practical gardener with a preference for root vegetables. For whatever reason, she made an exception for carnations which became my favorite because they were her favorite.
I’m thinking it would be a good idea to make a regular trek to the flower shop for carnations.
That’s a wrap.
I’m sure their perspectives will enrich the dialog.