New Rules That Every PR Person Should Know

Both the practice and business of public relations has grown enormously in recent years. The Holmes Report estimates the global PR industry at $14.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in 2014. It’s expected to reach $20 billion by the year 2020. And as PR budgets have increased, the day-to-day practice of it has changed.

A PR agency employee starting in the business today will be creating programs, telling stories, and reporting to clients in ways very different from just a few years ago, in part due to the rise of digital technology and the blurring of lines between paid, earned, and owned media.

Here are the top “new rules” resulting from trends that affect PR professionals in the digital age.

Top Trends Affecting Today’s PR Professionals

Content, particularly visual content, is key. Today’s PR programs are less about selling and more about telling….stories that engage prospective customers or partners. We still tell plenty of stories through editorial media, but the old days of email blasts and “smile-and-dial” tactics are over. The smartest PR professionals help product or service companies identify their most powerful differentiators, shape a narrative, and tell their story where it counts. Breaking through with quality material will become more difficult as content marketing approaches a saturation point. As PR measurement guru Katie Paine puts it, “The people brands are trying to reach simply will ignore everything most companies spew.”

PR today is about SEO. If PR is all about content, it follows that SEO is a critical item in the PR practitioner’s toolbox. Any PR pro who lacks basic SEO and web analytics knowledge should seek additional training, even if it’s basic free background like Moz’s analytics tutorial. When it comes to content, quality and relevance have replaced sheer quantity as a key metric. To be shareable, content must be optimized, so fluency in SEO basics is a necessary skill.

Thought leadership isn’t just for B2B brands. B2B executives in professional or technology services have long distinguished themselves by linking their corporate brand to a compelling idea or point of view. But today so-called “thought leadership” is also relevant to consumer product companies.  The explosion of digital and social media has made every factor of corporate reputation―from customer service to CEO behavior―relevant to brand image, and therefore to PR. Even consumer brands need to position themselves and their companies as leaders. They must offer ideas and inspiration, not just great products and services. That means more PR professionals are at work on executive visibility and content programs and reputation management is built into every program.

PR is about “influence.”  Chris Graves, Ogilvy Public Relations chairman and chair of the PR Council, describes PR’s essence as “earned influence” due to the crucial role that relationships play in driving engagement. Some confuse influence with popularity, but the two are not the same. Just because someone has a large social following or a high Q score doesn’t mean they are influential. Not only that, but the way we go about generating influence has changed. A survey of 500 PR and marketing professionals found that 82 per cent are using influencers to help get their story out, and many in that group are engaging social media personalities.
Back in the day, we rented a TV entertainer or book author for a product launch. Now the use of social or digital influencers far outstrips promotional deals with more “traditional” TV or film celebrities.

The lines between paid and earned media are blurring. One of our most important tasks is content creation, but with the explosion of digital content, distribution is more important than ever. Yet it’s nearly impossible to achieve scale with so-called organic content. The most successful campaigns are driven through paid content distribution tools or tactics, so today’s PR person must be well versed in social optimization tools and tactics.

Press releases are obsolete. Well, not really, but they’re used far less than they once were, and with good reason. To make the most of a newsworthy announcement, it’s better to offer it as an “exclusive,” or first-use basis, to a key media outlet, and then distribute it broadly for maximum pickup. Paid newswire releases should be for announcements that need to get into the public record, since the coverage they generate isn’t likely to be significant. And if the announcement isn’t media worthy to begin with, there’s no reason to do a press release unless it’s for internal marketing, which isn’t a very good reason.

Everything is measurable and measured. The rise of data-driven marketing has been a difficult transition for some PRs because few of us are trained in analytics, and there’s been no industry standard for evaluation of earned media outcomes. But the new rules for PR professionals are catching up. A coalition of professional groups has created guidelines for benchmarking and measuring PR programs, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, there’s plenty of practical advice on how to put those principles into practice.

7 Bad PR Habits To Break Right Now

It’s a cliché that the public relations relations business needs better PR for itself, but did you ever wonder why it suffers from an image problem? Sometimes it’s due to the bad habits of those who practice PR. Every profession has its share of negative stereotypes; some are lighthearted, some have an ounce of truth in them. And some are just damaging!

Here are some bad PR habits that need to be broken right away.

Using superlatives like “award-winning” and “revolutionary”

We’ve spilled some ink over the use of empty phrases in the past. At best, trite words add absolutely nothing to a story or a pitch; at worst, using hyperbolic language perpetuates negative stereotypes about PR people as exaggerators or hucksters. Our pet peeve is the use of client quotes where a company spokesperson is “delighted” or “thrilled” about an announcement when a more substantive quote would move the story forward or gently editorialize about the potential that might result from the news. It’s far better to impress by being original, concise, and clear.

Pitching across every social channel possible

It’s no secret reporters are avid users of social media for professional purposes, and in our experience, most don’t mind being messaged on Twitter or elsewhere. But before bombarding a journalist across seven different platforms, make sure he or she is okay with being pitched that way. In most cases, journalists are up front about how they prefer to be contacted. Ignoring those preferences is bound to irk, and a bad habit worth breaking today. Similarly, as most good PR people know, a massive email blast to a media list that isn’t properly culled or curated, is a good way to be blacklisted.

Sending lengthy press releases when a short pitch will do

Though many continue to argue whether the press release’s days are over, we believe there are times when press releases are worthwhile endeavors. Very often, however, sending a simple pitch to individual reporters is better. Sending press releases too often, too soon, or when they’re not necessary only overwhelms inboxes and may cause “real” news to be ignored. Save the press release for a truly newsworthy launch or announcement, or a situation where timely disclosure policies dictate it.

Pretending you’re listening when you’re really not

Knowing how to listen well is important in many disciplines, but as a professional communicator, failing to listen is inexcusable. Nothing irks a journalist more, and anyone who works in business development at a PR agency can tell you that active listening is the first step in closing the sale with a prospective client. Listening also helps professionals be open to the types of ideas and angles that can offer new opportunities for programs.


This is tempting at times, but it’s one of the worsts thing a PR person can do. A common error is giving clients unrealistic expectations about the amount of earned media an announcement will generate, which ratchets up the pressure on the account team and usually ends in tears. Another mistake is offering journalists more than you can deliver. PR professionals are only as good as their word, and if a commitment falls short, it’s damaging to one’s reputation. Another simple, but critical part of meeting expectations? Stick to your deadlines. Be brutally honest about when something can be done.

Passing the buck

When things go wrong, it’s easy to place blame, and heaven know PR people serve many masters. But failing to take responsibility for decisions can lead to slow-burning, or “smoldering” situations that can erupt into a crisis, rather than a quick flare-up that can be put out with minimal, or only short-term, damage. This is especially true for to execs responsible for managing a company’s reputation. For more on managing a crisis, check out a past post here.

Being ignorant

Whether as a pop culture maven, political news junkie or lover of all things tech, being successful in PR means being well-read and well-versed in many different universes. One can’t know everything about everything, of course, given the overwhelming amount of news and junk that floods our inboxes and social streams. But failing to stay abreast of top memes, trends, and world events is poor practice, and completely avoidable.

5 Signs You Should Wait To Invest In Tech PR


For many tech start-ups, investing in a strategic public relations plan is the first step in preparing a product or service for “prime time.” In our experience, timing is critical to getting the best press response, and the tendency to rush headlong into mass media relations can backfire. Here are five “slow-down” signs to help time the plunge into full-blown PR mode to achieve maximum results.

Early reviews show many different kinds of  product glitches. If early reviewers find your new app or piece of hardware a bit “buggy,” that’s to be expected. But if the glitches are all over the map, as opposed to a cluster of similar issues, that’s a clear sign you aren’t ready to engage in a full-blown PR campaign just yet. It is typically easier for product engineers to correct one flaw as opposed to something potentially systemic. Use those early reviewers as sounding boards, stay in touch with them and offer them first crack at your “new and improved” device or app.

Your product USP is a moving target. We recently worked with a start-up which offered online subscription-based mental health counseling. As we were preparing to offer an exclusive interview with the founders, they suddenly changed course and decided to offer the service first to college students, a very different segment from the one we had developed messaging and materials for. Since we generally get just one bite at the exclusive, if there’s anything less than crystal clarity about what your announcement is, you’re not ready to announce.

You don’t yet have a “category.” It’s intuitive to think that the groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind tech marvel coming out of your company should be heralded by massive media interest. Au contraire. Many media don’t consider a new product announcement worthy if it doesn’t have at least one other entry in its category. We have been told by press that categories make the story, a one-off product may just mean a fluke and not a worthy offering that will catch fire with consumers. When launching a wearable ultrasound pain device, the Wall St. Journal, for example, didn’t cover the story until the reporter had uncovered another player in the space.

Your infrastructure is lacking. As a start-up, there may be some departments that are quite up to snuff as your product is coming to market. Before entering into a PR partnership that will thrust a company into the public consciousness, leaders need to staff up and prepare everything from sales and IT departments to legal and HR.

You don’t have the budget to do PR well. Many tech start-ups put the big dollars into R&D and fail to budget properly for marketing. If you have a very small budget and are relying on some kind of DIY PR, the results will likely be disappointing. Or, perhaps you budgeted for a targeted ad campaign, thinking it could best explain your product to early adopters. You may find that it can’t. When your team is ready to tell the world your story, prepare by researching PR firms, assessing their track record and finding out if your teams are compatible. The best tech PR comes from collaborating with partners who specialize and factoring those costs into preliminary budgets.