Social media is part of your core PR skills, says CM Porter Novelli’s Angela Casey

Date: 01 January 2012 13:33

Marketing our PR expertise is always difficult. In the past, the full-service agency was the ideal – packed full of widely skilled people who could manage broad campaigns. Marketing has changed more recently and we are now living in the PR world of the “expert” – niche specialists who are airlifted in to advise on one area of media or skill. But are we doing anyone a favour in marketing an “expert”?

By implication, an expert in one area of media is weak on the other areas. If you are running a broad campaign, how many experts do you need to make sure you cover off all areas and how are they going to communicate to produce a cohesive strategy? By marketing specialists in niche areas, we are running the risk that the required team is larger than it should be, with lots of people each representing only one element of the PR mix.

Such divisions have the potential to damage the PR industry as a whole in cases where there is an assumption that only “the expert” understands niche media areas. This is a particular issue with social media, because it is the “new big thing” and because many people still don’t understand it or realise that it is simply another strand of the media: news, trade, broadcast, social media. Fundamentally it is easy, it is another communications route that every professional communicator should be exploiting to the full. Once you understand that, you will see that there is no need for an expert in the area, just a PR practitioner who knows how to use social media as well as they do the other strands of media.

I have lost count of how many times recently I have been asked “who is your social media expert?” and I have said, again and again, that in my view we should all be social media experts, just as much as we are broadcast, print media or public engagement specialists. It is our job to know how to communicate as widely as possible in the most effective way. And if that includes social media as well as the other channels, then we just do it and do it well. We do not need the bespectacled expert to drop in at the last minute and tell us how to do that one element of the programme. However, where there are people with particular expertise, we need them to be ensuring relevant training is the highest standard possible.

Being an expert in everything is at the core of a good PR practitioner! And it is not just in the media, but in the areas being “PR-ed” too. We need to understand every subject area, every tactic for getting coverage, every skill needed to communicate widely. Plus, we have to do all this without being called “Jack of all Trades”. Which is why, I think, companies are using the “expert” tag – to add an element of mystique to skills.

Selling niche experts may be a good way of marketing, but until we all appreciate that being a PR person means having a wide range of skills including those elements that in theory belong to the “experts”, we are not doing our industry any favours. The expert is within all of us and we simply need to ensure we embrace change and keep our skills up to date with regular training on all aspects of PR, as well as absorb the evolving media environment. That way, we all have the skills we need to do a good job and in that way we are all “PR experts”.

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    Interesting post. I agree and the sooner we start to focus on the end (business) results and how to get there using all the tools available the better. However, practitioners have limited mental and time resource and clients/organisations won't be able to make sense of a homogeneous mass of PR people. Once the dust has settled over social media, my own theory is that we will see a growing market in niche PR agencies/services focussed on reaching and influencing particular audiences/stakeholders/social groups. General skills will be the same but deeper knowledge of a sector and its communication channels plus target behaviour and the relationship to business goals will become increasingly important.

    Name: Joe Walton
    Date: 03 Jan 2012 01:45 PM

    Agree. It's all about outcomes, not outputs. And best outcomes are achieved with immersion - in a business, a sector, a market, an audience. Just need to lick evaluation too - about time we proved PR works.

    Name: Dom Lane
    Date: 03 Jan 2012 09:31 PM

    Absolutely right; there are so many 'social media experts' touting themselves around it's easy to feel the need for a specialist. Good PR people have always been hybrids, understanding all the options and able to bring the right solution for each of the client's issues. Social media is just one more thing for us to get our heads around if we are to earn the respect of clients.

    Name: Philip Tutt
    Date: 05 Jan 2012 02:13 PM

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