You can’t teach what you don’t know. If you speak in absolutes on matters of opinion, you’ll be wrong one hundred percent of the time. I’d like to address the first statement without committing the crime mentioned in the second.
As public relations and marketing gain prominence and respect as professions, a new wave of practitioners may justifiably feel robbed down the road. They’ll feel robbed because most of them will eventually learn that their education has been misguided and incomplete. Some will never notice.
When young people join an industry, they have, in my opinion, a right to expect that they’ll be learning from professionals with a complete skill set. In this industry, that is rarely the case anymore. My views are a result of working at multiple prominent agencies in Midtown Manhattan, running my own practice for the past year, and coaching several young people through their first years in the industry. When this semester ends, I will have taught public relations and marketing at New York University and the University of Dayton. For over a year now, I have been interviewing some of the brightest and most recognized minds in the industry on Editorial IV, in addition to regularly sharing my own thoughts.
It’s important that you know where I’m coming from, but now that you do, let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Just as new members of the industry have the right to expect that they’ll be learning the proper skill set, seasoned members have a responsibility to maintain a complete skill set. Many of the skills necessary to succeed today are not being taught at the agency level. They’re not being taught because senior level members, the teachers, are unfamiliar with them. That’s not to say that they’re unaware of them, just that they have not taken the initiative to learn them yet and are therefore incapable of teaching them.
A doctor would not be excused for finishing their residency and acting as if his or her education had come to an end. Neither are those who are in positions of power in any industry and stop learning.
First, let’s give credit where credit is due. At reputable agencies, young people will still learn some of the most important lessons. They’ll learn how to meet deadlines under intense pressure in the real world, how to work on teams, manage relationships with clients, develop mutually-beneficial relationships with key media contacts (long-term value questionable), craft meaningful pitches, and their writing will likely improve.
Now criticism where it’s due. Even though we currently have the capabilities to track and measure the results of public relations and marketing efforts, most agencies still use terribly outdated metrics when reporting results, metrics that contribute to the negative connotation public relations in particular owns. For starters, I’m talking about analytics tools, the most popular of which is Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools to track keyword performance, social media management tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite, and built-in analytics on Facebook and Twitter.
Instead, metrics like advertisement value equivalency (AVE), which I covered in a previous post, are used. It’s a meaningless and dishonest metric. Most of the tools I listed are free and can together tell you almost everything you need to know. I can confidently say that most senior level marketing and public relations executives do not know how to use these tools, making it impossible to properly teach younger employees what it takes to succeed today.
Actual views can be measured, as opposed to an outlet’s self-reported circulation, a rough estimate at best, possibly a total misrepresentation of reality, along with a laundry list of other relevant metrics. Clicks. Shares. Time spent on page. Bounce rate. Referral traffic. With heat maps, you can easily tell which sections readers spend the most time on and the sections that are quickly scanned. Geographic data lets you know which countries and cities your readers are in. Their age, sex, and interests are documented. Devices are recognized to help you determine what to optimize for. The list goes on. Almost anything you can imagine measuring can be measured.
I’m sure some people will scoff at this when they read it, but it’s the truth. A hard truth that will make unqualified leaders laugh nervous, uncomfortable laughs. If you’re interviewing with an agency, ask them what tools they use and how they’ve used them to help clients grow.
Continuing on. There is still too much of an emphasis on traditional media. Media relations – getting clients press coverage – has traditionally been one of the pillars of public relations, and those with the best contacts have wielded the most power. Many of those contacts will be or have already been fired because traditional media outlets can’t figure out digital and are either dropping like flies or, if they have a ton of reserve money, cutting costs (the specialists that have made them valuable in the past) and holding on for dear life. The New York Times released another hundred just last week. It’s happening across the board. Many of the digitally native outlets are part of the new wave I call “echo media,” meaning they just repeat what everyone else is saying. (We’ll have to wait and see who they’ll repeat when everyone worth repeating goes out of business.) Still, there can be great value in developing relationships with these outlets because of their reach.
From a leaked New York Times internal memo from May:
On Oscar night, The Times tweeted a 161-year-old story about Solomon Northup, whose memoir was the basis for ‘12 Years a Slave.’ After it started going viral on social media, Gawker pounced, and quickly fashioned a story based on excerpts from our piece. It ended up being one of the best-read items of the year. But little of that traffic came to us.
Hate it or love it, that’s how things work now.
Companies today have the ability to reach audiences on their own terms, barely relying on the media at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a profile story in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or in the case of tech companies, the coveted TechCrunch and Re/code stories, can be great for the sake of credibility, but when it comes to building a customer base there just isn’t as much value in media relations as there used to be. Public relations and marketing teams should be less focused on media relations and in-your-face tactics and more focused on producing in-house content that provides value to their audience without them ever having to ask for it. Unfortunately, these skills, such as putting together a successful content marketing plan, are usually not taught at the agency level.
Again, the point of this post is simply to make those who are new to the industry aware of some of the new skills they’ll need to learn in order to build a successful career and ensure their own survival. Please ask the right questions and never get too comfortable yourself. If you’ve reached this point, aren’t bored yet, and would like to speak more about any of these issues, please feel free to reach me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I respond to all emails and will be happy to offer any advice I can, or expound on points made above.