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Technology Offers New PR Tools

Posted At: April 12, 2007 10:19 AM

by Jennifer Mitchell

Common knowledge will tell you that in any career it is necessary to use the tools that fit the client.

However, as technology changes and continues to evolve, so must the tools that are used to conduct business. Not too long ago public relations professionals used press releases and media advisories almost constantly. While those are still effective, the trend is moving toward more communication via the Web. The “old standards” are currently being replaced with blogging, social networking and podcasts. And as the world goes more hi-tech, so must the way PR practitioners do their jobs.

Hot Tool: The Blog

Kami Watson Huyse, APR, principal, My PR Pro, knows this all too well. The Texas firm’s Web site features a blog called “Communication Overtones.”

“We happen to be located in San Antonio, which is not one of the main hotbeds for PR in the world,” she said. “Blogs have allowed us to be both a national and an international presence.”

For smaller firms, like My PR Pro, blogging is a way for professionals to show potential clients their knowledge of technology, as well as of the field of PR.

“A lot of companies are looking for this kind of knowledge in a PR firm, and we’ve gotten a good number of clients just through having the blog,” Huyse said.

Scott Baradell, president, The Idea Grove, a PR agency in Dallas, said that since starting his blog, “Media Orchard,” there are days when the phone is ringing off the hook with potential clients.

“When I started the blog in the beginning of 2005, none of my clients were involved in blogging or had any interest in it,” Baradell said. “Now virtually all of my clients are involved in blogging communities.”

Baradell originally started blogging for the same reason most do–to show knowledge in a particular area. However, he has since found that it can be used in a different way to attract clients.

“Now I use it as an icebreaker for people,” he said. “It shows our personality.”

Baradell went on to say that the blog allows potential clients the opportunity to get to know the firm before actually entering into a business relationship.

It seems that blogging has emerged as one of the hot new tools in PR. It is not, however, only benefiting PR firms.

Linda Rutherford, vice president, public relations and community affairs, Southwest Airlines, said that Southwest actually has two blogs, with each being in existence for about a year now.

“The first one is called “Nuts About Southwest,” which is kind of our general, corporate-moderated blog,” Rutherford said. “We also have a smaller blog that is geared specifically toward a community relations program we support called ‘Adopt-a-Pilot.'”

Rutherford said that both blogs have actually proven very successful, and this success has been tracked by monitoring click-throughs. On each of the Southwest blogs, there are links that take the user to the booking page. Employees monitoring these click-throughs are able to tell if the user does indeed take the link to the booking page and know if that user then purchases an airline ticket. “We are seeing a very strong click-through rate, which is very encouraging,” Rutherford said. “We are very confident that [the blog] is a tool that is helping us communicate what is unique and different about our brand versus our competitors.”

Tips on Blogging

PR practitioners have to constantly stay on top of their game, as negative stereotypes of the profession continue to abound. With the term “spin doctors” continuing to creep about, Baradell said he decided early on to be very straightforward in his blog about political beliefs, media and other controversial issues.

“You’ve just got to be yourself,” he said. “Maybe not take it as far as I have with my blog, but you can’t come off as if you are holding something back. I think that comes off as phony to people.”

While blogging is becoming more and more popular, it may not be the best tool for every client. Huyse said that it is important know the tools but also understand the client and the goal. For example, she said that with a church, a podcast of the sermons would be a great tool; however, using a blog might not be best as it probably wouldn’t work with the schedule of church employees.

Other Trends in Tools

Besides blogs, podcasts are also becoming more prevalent on corporate sites. Southwest Airlines is planning to use this audio feature internally, to give their employees another way to stay connected. Southwest will be launching their podcast, called “Red Belly Radio,” later this year.

Another popular trend that is evolving is social networking. Many companies are finding it useful to have profiles on sites like LinkedIn™ and Second Life™, even Facebook™ and MySpace™.

As each of these new technologies continues to be embraced, the problem of which to use and how many may arise. For each new tool, the general consensus seems to be to evaluate your company, your clients and their needs. Then use only the tools that will help, not hinder.

As Rutherford said, “It needs to make sense for your company’s culture.”

E-mail: Kami Watson Huyse
E-mail: Scott Baradell
E-mail: Linda Rutherford

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