Online PR Is Sexy – But Don’t Get Seduced

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When Twitter makes it onto the Today programme as a news item, it is clearly time to accept that social media and online PR (or, more properly, online communications) is part of the established media routes to audiences.

Facebook, we are told – primarily by Facebook themselves, of course – is now the third biggest ‘country’ in the world and the figures for the number of postings to YouTube runs into the millions.

News organisations at all levels – not just the IT-savvy bloggers, but even august bodies like the BBC and PA  – now prefer to receive press releases by e-mail or, better yet, to access virtual press offices and download the news that they want.

So any communications strategy that does not include online PR and/or the social media is missing out on fast and effective access to vast audiences.  Online PR is undoubtedly ‘sexy’ and alluring, and the modern mantra seems to be ‘get it online’

But, a much older mantra should still be heard – the medium is not the message.

Some of the industry furore around online communications takes me back to the early days of video (look it up, any marketeers under 25).  Back then, the call from clients, agency ideas teams and fashion followers was “we need a video”.  All too often, they couldn’t answer the next question: “Why?”.

Or they rushed out, hired a whizz kid (look that up too while you’re there) and spent money and time on lovely, seductive marketing eye candy.

Grounded old wordsmiths like me would be left muttering “what’s the story?  Where’s (in a time honoured slogan) the beef?”.  And, sadly, we were often right: visuals without words, or at least a coherent message, were just that –
visuals.  Their promotional value was greatly diminished, but they looked great when shown to the Board or the next shareholders’ meeting.

So I counsel caution online, as I did a generation ago with video.  Don’t do it just because you can, do it because it is the right medium for the message, the right medium for the audience and it fits in the communications strategy that you have set.

It should be the message that has the sex appeal, not the medium.  Online PR is here to stay (at least until someone thinks of something even whizzier and sexier), but use it wisely.

This guest post was created by Peter Smith. PR Guru and visiting lecturer in Journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln:

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