Engaged: PR Tips and Tricks, SxSW Style

This past weekend I was lucky enough to travel to the SxSW Interactive festival on behalf of Mozilla.  Among many other things, I got to attend a number of panels and keynotes that were both interesting from a purely personal standpoint, as well as to further my PR career.

One panel, Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?, was particularly interesting to me. Since making the jump from the agency side to in-house this past year, I’ve noticed a ton of differences in the work flow of my day, types of interactions I have with people, and most noticeably, the visible impact I now have on the organization. This panel made me wonder, will PR agencies be obsolete in the next few years, and if they’re not, then how should the PR professional’s role evolve?

My biggest take away from this was that it’s no longer about “owning” a message and disseminating it to your audience.  There seems to be a significant shift from being the gatekeepers of information to being a catalyst for engagement. As panelist Peter Shankman so aptly stated, “Your job is to get other people to do your PR for you.”

While this may be a seemingly simple concept, the real question is: How do you engage?  How do you use today’s new media tools to reach and converse with your audiences? What are the rules for engagement and how should we expect agencies to adapt to leverage these tools?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Twitter is the new crack.

(As a side note, I could not go for more than five minutes during my entire time at the conference without hearing the words ‘Twitter’ or ‘tweet’. I get it – it’s a wonderful tool and you absolutely must tell the person sitting three feet away,  plus the entire world, how your head is pounding from the XX party last night – but it was a tad much.) Sticking to this as a tool for PR professionals, the takeaway here is now more than ever proficient and succinct writers are essential. We must cater to extremely short attention spans (that in many cases becomes nonexistent beyond the 14oth character) with concise, clear and effective messages to feed and engage our audiences.

2. Maximize SEO in your press release.

While press releases are seemingly heading toward a shiny glass case in the PR History Museum, they’re not quite there yet. It remains all about your audience. The media still need information, and some, believe it or not, may turn the the occasional press release. Forget the $10K to send it across the wire, and instead choose the most inexpensive option and maximize its effectiveness through search. Adjust the content based on keyword density to ensure the release gets picked up by the right audiences.

3. Go to your community.

The digital tools online allow us to easily customize our message. And customize it again. And again. Our job now is to determine the audiences we want to reach, where they are, and as a result, the best way to engage with them.

4. You still need to measure success.

You can’t use old metrics for new tools. The days of flipping through bulky newspapers and counting “clips” are over, so now what? How do you measure your success on Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general? One way is to start with your objective, and measure against it. How many users did you reach? How big is the community you built?  Define what you consider success and see how you measure up. Also think about creating a destination, which can then be  measured. Where do the tweets tell you to go? How many people have downloaded your software?

5. The rules of engagement are dictated by the communities themselves.

We have the ability to shape and steer perception, but it’s ultimately the communities we’re talking to that should determine how we approach and engage them. The new PR superstar must be be not only familiar with the all the relevant tools and groups on the Web, but also be a savvy participant before engaging on behalf of any organization. Be authentic, be smart, and perhaps most importantly, know your audience.

1 Response to “Engaged: PR Tips and Tricks, SxSW Style”


  1. 1 Melissa March 20, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Great wrap up. Sounds like a lot of interesting discussion at south by this year! Hope you enjoyed!


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