Last week I wrote about the need to put the public back into public affairs. My perspective was that we often confuse public affairs with government relations, when the former is really much broader than the latter. I was sufficiently encouraged by the positive feedback I received to expand on the theme in the area of public relations.
Just as public affairs isn’t a synonym for government relations, public relations is much more than media relations. The premise of putting the public back in public relations is not about ignoring the media, but ensuring you reach the public. In a nutshell, it’s knowing where the public is and how they choose to engage with content.
There was a time when people relied on television networks, cable news, and national newspapers to stay informed. Based on that reliance, it was safe to assume that leveraging those same media outlets would be both an efficient and effective way to communicate with the general public. But, now, neither commands captive audiences.
In 1969, the original Star Trek television series was cancelled with a 22.1 market share. This past month, ABC’s reboot of Roseanne was considered a ratings smash with a market share of 11.9. (Yes, Roseanne has since been cancelled – but for reasons completely unrelated to its ratings which don’t need to be discussed in detail here.)
Acknowledging that we’re not as dependent on traditional media outlets as we were in the past is not of criticism modern journalism or the vital role it plays in society. Rather, it’s simply accepting the fact that social media platforms now provide us with even more efficient and effective tools to communicate directly with the public.
This may seem obvious, but there continues to be a lingering concern that if something doesn’t appear in the morning paper it never happened. As a result, we see companies continuing to invest in media strategies that are limited to sponsored content or full-page ads in print editions that simply aren’t connecting with people.
Put simply, if you aren’t amplifying your story through the social media channels where the public goes for their news you are missing the mark. You will only reach those shrinking audiences who rely on traditional channels – a rapidly-declining demographic that isn’t representative of the vast majority of consumers or investors.
Any modern public relations strategy needs to have major elements which are entirely separate from traditional news media. While an effective social media campaign might be noticed and reported on by traditional media outlets, that should be seen as a helpful “nice to have” bonus but not an essential “must have” goal.
Rob Mariani is Senior Vice President with Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada, and General Manager of the H+K Office in Ottawa, Ontario