The 21st century is changing both the face and the communications landscape of the public relations industry. Paul Holmes, CEO of the global public relations firm the Holmes Group, reports that after a slow start, the entire PR perspective is evolving in response to ever-widening communications channels and heightened consumer awareness. An environment where consumers can find and circulate information within seconds presents challenges that many PR departments and companies previously never faced.
PR campaigns can no longer rely solely on traditional methods such as television, radio and print media to distribute messages. Instead, a 21st century campaign must include a variety of technologies and pathways to reach a target audience. For example, a campaign that includes social media, email and traditional print media communication channels -- along with verbiage tailored to suit the audience -- are ways to reach young consumers, parents and senior citizens.
Throughout much of the 20th century, PR was able to control the message, shape customer’s perceptions and establish credibility via paid advertisements, announcements and well-timed press releases. Today, however, the annual Trust Barometer conducted by the international public relations firm Edelman shows that rank-and-file employees both shape and control the message. With employees being among the most highly trusted sources of information, the challenge is to make every employee a company brand ambassador. According to Holmes, the way to accomplish this is by fully aligning marketing and corporate communications messages with the values, behaviors and culture of a company.
In a survey of 1,000 customers conducted by Cohn and Wolfe, a global communications and branding firm, 47 percent of the people interviewed said they want to do business with companies they believe are transparent, and 58 percent said they would switch to a competitor if they discovered a company was hiding information. Although information transparency even when things go wrong is becoming increasingly more important, this can be challenging for businesses that have never been in this position before. Despite this, it is crucial to not only listen to what customers are saying but also to respond to questions, feedback and criticism openly and honestly.
To make sure that PR messages aren’t dismissed or ignored, business owners face the challenge of creating PR messages in ways that social media users find acceptable. For example, William Carleton, a Seattle-based business startup lawyer, reports in a GeekWire article that Facebook users often take exception to advertisements and PR messages that appear on their personal pages. In addition, because so many social media sites link to one another, it’s vital to monitor social media and respond promptly to user comments.