This final column in a series that highlighted the importance of putting the public at the heart of communications strategies, focuses on how businesses should harness the power of the public to generate publicity. 

The traditional method of generating publicity for a new product, project, or proposal saw companies inform the public through an intermediary: print, radio and television media and splashy billboards.

When you think of it, you can’t spell intermediary without media, and with good reason – it is derived, in part, from the Latin medius, which means middle. Of course, this is not to be confused with journalistic news media, which is a separate and specific conduit.

Today, companies can, and do, engage directly with the public without going through any sort of middleman – a trend that Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ global chairman Jack Martin describes as disintermediation – effectively changing how companies communicate with the public.

It used to be that drumming up publicity was among the final stages in the go-to market strategy, when there was a finished product or project to launch. Now, companies need to recognize the tremendous value in engaging with the public at a much earlier stage to gather feedback and even collaborate on the design and development process.

This type of involvement generates its own form of publicity, as the people being engaged in the process share their experience and enthusiasm with others. In that way, the power of the public is harnessed in two ways: to shape and to share ideas.

One of the most interesting aspects of this early involvement of the public is that the value proposition transcends industries. From consumer goods to infrastructure projects, the recipe for generating publicity to support your business objectives does not change.

This is what we mean when we refer to viral campaigns – aptly named because awareness spreads organically from person to person like a virus. Unlike in the past, the public is “patient zero” – not a media outlet or broadcast medium.

Social media plays an important role in this ecosystem. It is the most common way that the public shares information with their personal networks. In fact, social media is powered by the public – it’s the public who engage with content and post new information, like, share and retweet.

Publicity is no longer controlled by companies or media outlets, it’s controlled by the public. It is that power, in the hands of the public, which must be harnessed. Publicity has evolved from generating awareness to generating action.

Rob Mariani is a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, and serves as General Manager of their Ottawa Offices. 

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