Studies have portrayed Millennials as confident and tolerant, but also narcissistic and having a feeling of entitlement. Those traits, along with Millennials’ addiction to social media, have created an interesting dynamic for all industries – including public relations. Their apparent belief that social media buzz is the be-all, end-all for media relations is disturbing, at the very least, and downright ignorant at its worst.
To those younger practitioners who believe that social media buzz is the Holy Grail, consider this: a recent study by the Coca-Cola Company found that online buzz has no measurable impact on short-term sales. Coke has 61.5 million fans, more than any other brand on Facebook. Granted, we can’t read too much into the research because it only covered buzz, not sharing, video views or other aspects of social media. However, the comment from Coke’s senior manager-marketing strategy is interesting: “We didn’t see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales.”
As global marketing executives awaken from their social media hangover, they quickly are realizing that their public relations support team has gone through a swift reduction in the experience and maturity categories – leaving them without a seasoned veteran to accompany them into the brutally unforgiving court of public opinion.
The bed rock of PR is communicating through the written and spoken word. Based on my experience, Millennials lack appreciation for basic PR blocking and tackling. Their presumption that social media channels are THE panacea and will bring world peace is based on their addiction to social media. Social media is simply a necessary arrow in today’s PR quiver, not the only arrow.
The inconvenient truth about today’s younger PR practitioners is that many are poor writers and don’t understand the best social media outreach is practiced face-to-face. They can text and Tweet, but they can’t write or meet.
Why are so many Millennials poor writers? First, they don’t read. Well, to be fair, they do read headlines, texts and Tweets, blogs and Facebook postings. But they don’t read books. Or news magazines. Or newspapers. Second, they don’t write. Again to be fair, they can write in 140 characters or less in “text-ese” but they can’t write an article, news release, white paper or Op-ed. I’m of the opinion that the importance of writing well is not being emphasized in undergraduate PR tracks in our colleges and universities, but that’s another column.
The essence of PR is to positively communicate your company’s or client’s position concisely and consistently to their key audiences through the media. To do so, you have to understand your client’s products, services and industry and understand how to craft the vehicles that will engage the media and result in earned placements. In other words, you have to be able to recognize a good story and be able to tell a good story that grabs a reporter’s attention.
So, if you’re a PR Millennial and your eyes haven’t yet glazed over reading this, here are a few tips on how you can improve the work you do and elevate yourself above your Millennial colleagues:
1. Read books.
Fiction or non-fiction. Just read. It will teach you discipline and improve your creative thinking.
2. Read newspapers.
Pick a national or major metropolitan newspaper and read it every day. This will keep you abreast of key issues and events, and give you a better feel for how news is covered and written – the nuances, rhythms and structure. The AP stylebook still rules. Oh, just to be clear, AP stands for Associated Press not Advanced Placement, Associate Professor or the French rapper.
3. Read news magazines.
These publications provide very in-depth coverage of key issues affecting your company, your clients and your country. This will improve your critical thinking skills and show you the many different angles within a news story.
It’s what we (PR professionals) do. News releases, feature articles, white papers, op-eds, scripts, brochures, marketing collateral, speeches, case studies and more all rely on the written word. The more you write, the more you learn and the more you’ll improve (assuming a more senior professional is editing your material).
5. Communicate face-to-face with reporters, not Facebook-to-Facebook.
While it’s true the vast majority of reporters prefer to receive information via email, it’s difficult to build a personal relationship with a reporter electronically. Sure, it can be done. However, the best relationship building is done in person, face-to-face. A reporter is much more likely to take your calls or respond to your emails if they know you.
6. Learn the basics.
Strategy. Tactics. Pitch development. Pitching. Message development. Story development. And, of course, writing. Learn how to recognize the newsworthiness of a story and deliver that news in the first paragraph.
So, read a lot. Learn to write. Learn to block & tackle. And learn that social media buzz isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask the biggest brand on the planet.
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