One of the coolest parts about teaching is getting those wonderful “back to school” butterflies in my stomach as September arrives. For me it’s just like that feeling of anticipation when I go to a party where I’ll know some people, but I’ll be meeting a lot of others for the first time. There always seems to be heightened importance to first impressions and new relationships.
Many reading this are seeing Public Relations Nation for the first time. I created this blog six years ago, and after more than 300 posts I’ve never missed a week and haven’t exceeded a self-imposed edict to express myself in 350 words or less. While I try not to make PR Nation a soapbox for my political perspectives, I want it to be relevant to what’s going on in the world. During this presidential campaign, for example, there’s a multitude of PR lessons to be learned, and I sometimes can’t help revealing my opinions. The idea is to get your reaction to the point being made, which is why posts always end with “Your thoughts?” I also invite my students and other readers to contribute their own thoughts by writing a guest post. Several students and professional colleagues have done so, and you’ll be seeing more of these this fall.
Public relations is a complex and ever-changing profession and it’s also very difficult to define. At a social gathering of freshmen at Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication last week, a new student wanted to know what she’d be learning in class and asked me to describe public relations. I tossed the question back at her, suggesting that she tell me about PR as she understands it to be. I was pleasantly surprised when she gave a credible explanation…not bad for an 18-year-old who never read a PR textbook or set foot in a PR classroom. I wonder how many students, whether freshmen or otherwise, or even how many seasoned PR practitioners can easily define our profession in a sentence or two without Googling it first. Try it!
A new academic year is about to begin and I can’t wait. Across the country approximately 21 million students will be enrolled in college, more than ever before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most members of the freshmen class will have been born in or around 1996, about 37 years after me.
These numbers represent a challenge for educators my age, especially when teaching a subject as ever-evolving as public relations. Many of us can remember when press releases were created on typewriters and mailed in envelopes using stamps we had to lick. Since those primitive tools, we’ve witnessed astounding changes, and as professionals we’ve had to keep our skills sharp and up-to-date. We former PR pros must stay ahead of the curve to teach the latest trends, techniques and tools with future public relations practitioners.
Even during the four years I’ve been teaching full-time at Hofstra University, change has come fast and furious. For example, college students now favor using Twitter and Instagram over Facebook. Online video is rapidly becoming the most effective way to move people to action, and YouTube is now the second most-used search engine, behind Google. These changes in how people are using social media have profoundly impacted the way PR people do their jobs. We don’t just pitch stories, promote clients and diffuse crises; we have to be content providers — creating words, pictures and video for online platforms and web sites in an ongoing planned effort to gain attention and inspire positive attitudes and responses. To do this, we need to be more than good writers and pitch-persons; we must manage and master the current multi-media desktop and mobile tools, and use them to tell our stories very effectively.
For the new PR students who may think the profession is about red carpet events and flashy media moments, it’s more often not. Most of what we do is to use traditional and new media tools create content to initiate, persuade and change opinions. I’m excited about what’s next…are you? Your thoughts?
In an Edelman PR blog a year ago, Arun Mahtani wrote about how video has emerged as a profoundly important tool for public relations professionals. “In public relations, we’ve always put storytelling front and center. It’s been key to winning media coverage for our clients.”
“In the world of YouTube,” he continued, “it’s real stories about real people that reign supreme. The site is flooded with users documenting their lives and thoughts. Brands and companies have leveraged this trend… In this new reality, our talents as public relations professionals are in demand. We just need to understand how video has changed. And be bolder about our abilities.”
It used to be that video was something someone else produced for the purpose of promotion, usually to advertise a product. PR practitioners would only flirt with video production, occasionally working on public service announcements for nonprofits, or sometimes producing a video news release. Today, according to a number of sources, using video in blogs, on websites, and on YouTube channels boosts search engine optimization (SEO) so much so that a client is 50 times more likely to appear on page one of a Google search.
What does this mean for public relations professionals? It means we all better get more comfortable and knowledgeable about video production, and learn basic scripting, lighting, shooting, and editing.
The good news is it has become relatively easy to produce good video; in fact. some of my students’ PSA projects are shot with an Iphone and edited in Imovie, and come out looking nearly professional. Video, desktop publishing, photography and other tools have become such a part of PR that we’re thinking about developing an advance course in public relations tools, building on the fundamental tools class we require of Hofstra’s PR majors.
“Authenticity is another factor that plays to our skill-set,” wrote Mahtani. “Like journalists, we are experts in showing people the way the world is, rather than constructing an alternate reality.” Which means we all better get good at using video to tell our stories. Your thoughts?
In a week when the state of Georgia may have executed an innocent man, the U.N. General Assembly focused on Palestinian statehood and President Obama fought to raise taxes on the wealthy, the bigger controversy was the changes made by Facebook. Coverage of the changes featured interviews with people claiming to hate the new Facebook and threatening to dump it.
Well, no one is going anywhere. Those 750 million Facebook users will get used to the changes. While many millions will be using the new Google+, I predict that most Google+ users will also be Facebook users. Founder Mark Zuckerberg may use this period of public comment to make some adjustments, but Facebook has become too much a part of our lives to leave it. One small but substantial example of this: several surveys show that half of Facebook’s users check it first thing in the morning — before they do anything else!
Yesterday was my birthday and I found myself checking my Facebook more frequently to read the birthday wishes I received. As one who places a very high value on maintaining friendships, Facebook has given me a very easy way to keep in touch with people, some whom I haven’t seen in decades. Hundreds of millions love the idea that they can communicate this way. We also know that, when used correctly, Facebook is a tremendously effective and inexpensive public relations tool for individuals, businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations.
To be sure, we need to focus on protecting our privacy that is increasingly threatened by Facebook and all of social media. And Facebook may need to tweak some of its changes to make its users happier. But Mark Zuckerberg has little to fear. The world loves his brainchild. People use it by choice because it’s free, it’s easy, it’s fun and we get lots of “happy birthdays.” Your thoughts?