Public Relations is a pivotal part of any business because it is the most direct communication between the business and the public. For a business to enjoy long term success it has to have the ability to evolve and adapt with the ever changing trends of the public in order to understand the needs and concerns of the general public. Author and entrepreneur Deirdre K. Breakenridge (2008) states in her book ‘PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences’ that “It’s critical for PR professionals to read, be knowledgeable, and stay extremely well versed about the markets their brands try to reach.” The 20th century brought TV, radio, and the Internet, which greatly impacted the practice of Public Relations. But just as these media channels brought impact and change to the practice of public relations then, so will the rise of new media in the 21st Century.
With the emergence of many new online communication tools and channels due to the technological advancements of our time, public relations practitioners can no longer rely solely on traditional media to channel their messages. Today new media has been recognised as one of the strongest forms of channelling messages across to the public. It is extremely vital that PR practitioners learn, explore, and understand the use of new media and the roles it can play in public relations campaigns. This essay will examine the roles new media play in public relations campaigns and what the prevalence of new media imply for PR practitioners.
Today new media is at the heart of companies’ public relations and marketing initiatives. One of the roles of new media in public relations is to build efficient and effective communication between public relations practitioners, or an organization they represent, and the different specific public groups they are trying to reach. Public relations practitioners rely on the tools and channels that new media provide for different purposes, all of which are part of effective communication and connecting with the public. Some of the purposes include building or maintaining relationships, garnering support and reputation, gaining feedback, delivering certain messages or news.
In this day and age it has become essential for public relations to engage in continuous dialogue with the public. As the ways in which people transmit and receive information are rapidly evolving so must the ways in which PR interacts with the public. With new tools that are open to PR practitioners for communicating like E-mails, websites, digital/online newsletters, blogs, viral marketing, search engines, live conference calls, RSS and podcasting. (Aronson, Spetner and Ames, 2007, p. 1), new media provides enhanced information delivery systems and granting everyone with easy access to vehicles of mass communication. Theaker (2008) indicates that “Websites are already regarded as a mainstream element of corporate communications, and PR practitioners should be involved when clients set up websites,”. “The Internet provides the unique opportunity for people of all ages to acquire, digest, and understand a message through images, graphics, video, audio and other visual displays which the traditional media could not put together to effectively communicate.” (Macky, 2011, p. 1).
In addition to its use for connecting with the target public. New media can also be used in public relations for connecting with media outlets. Many trade publications, magazines and bloggers run blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages for their news source. Majority of the latest news and cultural trends are carried on social networks and micro blogging services like Facebook and Twitter. Fitch (2009) states that “blogs have value as research tools in that they offer an insight to the complexity, subtlety, diversity, and the contradictions and lack of cohesion in public opinion.” Public relations practitioners would find that staying connected with the mass public through these channels would effectively increase their knowledge and understanding of the latest trends and happenings that people are talking about or are heavily influenced by. This particular role plays an important part in the strategies and tactics of how a public relations practitioner would carry out a campaign or defend it in a time of crisis.
KFC’s 2010 scholarship tweet campaign was a great example of how effective new media can be in the practice of a public relations campaign. With 2.5 million college scholarships awarded every year in the U.S., KFC decided it had to cook up something innovative to stir buzz around the brand’s 75-scholarship Colonel’s Scholars program. KFC collaborated with Weber-Shandwick to reach out to a younger generation by employing trendy social media strategies. KFC and Weber-Shandwick decided to do away with the tired old college scholarship essay and award students a $20,000 scholarship based solely on a single tweet to convince KFC execs why they deserved a scholarship.
The scholarship tweet campaign generated more than 1,000 media placements and tens of millions of media impressions, including two AP Wire stories, multiple stories on CNN Headline News, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and NBC national news. The program also captivated the online world, generating more than nine million social media impressions as a result of tweets during the brief entry period. In all, more than 2,800 applicants tweeted for their chance at $20,000, and the KFC Twitter handle saw a 20% jump in followers in just two weeks.
But with the rise of new media on the internet, there is now a much greater ethical responsibilities with how PR practitioners handle the use of these tools. Qualitative as well as quantitative analysis is required because reported case studies indicate that some organisations and companies are attempting to engage in the what is now termed Web 2.0 social media environment using “traditional methods” of one-way information transmission and a control paradigm of communication characteristic of mass media (Gregory, 2004, p. 246).
For example, some public relations departments and agencies have created fake blogs such as Wal-Marting Across America. In the former case, public relations firm Edelman created an organisation called ‘Working Families for Wal-Mart’ which published a blog in which ‘Jim and Laura’ allegedly reported their personal adventures driving across America in an RV which happened to include regular visits to Wal-Mart stores. Other bloggers including Wal-Mart Watch and later BusinessWeek quickly detected falsity and revealed that the couple were employed by Edelman on behalf of Wal-Mart (“Wal-Mart,Edelman flogged for blog”, 2006). Wal-Mart and Edelman Public Relations were severely criticised for the fake blog and creation of the fake organisation, referred to as ‘astro-turfing’ (Gogoi, 2006).
And so with New media, many changes have been introduced to the practice of public relations in multiple ways. Most significantly in the shift from one-way PR communications to a two or multi-way communications. New media has also affected how PR professionals engage and interact with the traditional media reporter – especially with those who blog. Immediate access to reporter blogs allow for tracking of reporter interests and beats and this information leads to a more familiar, personalized dialogue in comparison to the traditional pitch. As more new media tools and techniques emerge, the public relations profession will continue to shift and incorporate the new practices. In the meantime, although new media requires more resources in terms of time, if offers more tools to expand reach of messages and programs.
Aronson, M, Spetner, D and Ames, C. (2007). The Public Relations Writer’s Handbook: The Digital Age.
Breakenridge, D. (2008). PR 2.0: New media, new tools, new audiences.
Fitch, K. 2009. New Media and Public Relations in Chia, J. and Synnott, G. An Introduction to Public Relations.
Gogoi, P. (2006, October 9). Wal-Mart’s Jim and Laura: The real story. BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/oct2006/db20061009_579137.htm?campaign_id=rss_innovate
Gregory, A. (2004). Scope and structure of public relations: A technology driven view. Public Relations Review, 30, 245-254.
Macky, M. (2011). Corporate Communication & The New Media
Theaker, A. (2008). The public relations handbook. Chapter 20: Using New Technology Effectively in PR
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