PR Spin: Behind the Scenes of a Misunderstood Industry

Ryan Greives

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How Social Media is Changing the PR Organizational Structure

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Ryan McVay / Getty Images

I recently used Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out™ (HARO) as a journalist, rather than a PR practitioner, looking to gain insight on a particular topic from the thousands of PR people who receive the daily queries. It was quite an exciting experience, I must say. Submitting a query for what I was looking for, awaiting the delivery of the HARO query list that hits my email box three times a day, and then reading through all of the interesting emails from possible sources. It was like writing a pen pal and awaiting their reply…but with many more return letters. Do kids even do that anymore, with Facebook now in their lives? I’m guessing not. But I digress.

My HARO was simple (or so I thought):

I am looking into how social media is changing the PR agency organizational structure.

  • Has it changed the role of traditional PR specialists? Are agencies incorporating it into their daily account work, hiring a social media specialist in-house, or outsourcing it?
  • Have new positions been created in PR agencies?
  • How are social media experts integrating into current organizational structures?

I’d appreciate any feedback or input from PR practitioners (preferably execs).

The responses came flooding in with some surprising feedback. First off, I was surprised at how off-topic half of the pitches were, especially from “PR execs” at some well-known agencies. These are the “experts” that are working on the $10-$50K a month accounts of some the world’s biggest brands? Yikes! It made me truly appreciate the teaching and training we do here at BLASTmedia on how to pitch on-target, with a story angle, necessary details and contact info. Some “experts” didn’t even include any information or reason for me to consider them whatsoever – basically saying, “I’d be perfect for your story. Call me.” Really? I have no idea how you never get your clients media attention with that type of pitching.

However, the responses were not all bad – which is what lead me to the second surprise and the point of this post. What I was looking for was how social media is changing PR agencies in their organization charts. Were all PR representatives being trained on social media or were outside social media “gurus” being hired to handle everything? If they were being hired or outsourced, to whom were they reporting? This is the essence of what I was looking for, which some realized. Here are a couple responses.

Our agency recently formed a new group to meet this need – the Public Relations and Social Media Group. ~ Chris Henneghan, Schubert Communications

While some agencies are creating positions and titles such as social media specialists, we are taking a different approach. I am encouraging my team to integrate social media into their day-to-day operations. We use it to share information about what we are doing as an agency as well as to communicate with reporters/bloggers/influencers. Social media is also used to source articles and research the key influencers in a specific market, technology, topic, etc. Like the telephone, fax, email, instant messages, etc., social media is yet another tool that must be embraced by PR and marketing professionals. ~ Domenick Cilea, Springboard Public Relations

And, my favorite…

Our agency has not hired any new employees to handle social media; instead we’ve required everyone from myself down to the receptionist/executive assistant to attend online seminars, read some great books like “Groundswell,” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research, and I have gone to New York to attend a number of social media multi-day seminars.

Were I to go out today and hire a new publicist, social media experience would absolutely be a prerequisite to even interviewing with us. The learning curve is steep, as we’ve found out, and since the last four of our newest clients were hired based on a proposal heavy in social media, I don’t see this reverting back. ~ Shamin Abas, Shamin Abas Public Relations

What I realized is that agencies are all doing different things to integrate social media into their old organizational model – there was no “cookie-cutter” answer for social media. PR agencies are looking around to see how they can use social media to add value to their current offerings, if this needs to be a separate division in their company or if all of their PR reps should be learning and using social media themselves. At BLAST, we have received numerous requests and questions regarding social media from current and prospective clients, some wanting purely social media campaigns. It’s great to know that we have social media in our arsenal and can show clients a true ROI. However, it will be interesting to see how not only social media will change the media landscape, but also the entire PR industry and agency organization structure. What are your thoughts?

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I am the senior public relations specialist at cleverbridge, a proven leader in global subscription billing technology, services and expertise. I lead the development, execution and measurement of the global PR and social media strategy. Prior to cleverbridge, I was vice president of BLASTmedia’s B2B Practice Group, providing strategic counsel, while driving tactical execution for a diverse range of clients. I led some of the agency’s largest campaigns, conducted launch campaigns for numerous startups and helped many emerging brands build their profile. Working with a wide variety of companies at all stages of growth, I have managed client strategy and messaging for clients such as 3Tera (acquired by CA in 2010), Bluelock, iGoDigital (acquired by ExactTarget in 2012), Code 42 Software, Tanita, NuCurrent, Woopra, Gordano, Ontario Systems and Mi Media (FRA: 8MK).

You can connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.