Digital and social media has transformed the PR industry in the last decade. And it’s a transformation that is not yet complete, as Digital and Social Media Director of Ketchum Europe, and President Elect of the CIPR Stephen Waddington witnesses daily.
Increasingly the audience to reach is on the web; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Businesses want to access those markets and the PR industry should be there to advise them how to do it.
Stephen said: “When people start sharing content about a brand or an organisation, tweeting or on Facebook, then it becomes a reputational issue and it attracts the attention of management pretty quickly. When media fragments the opportunity to reach audiences via the new forms of media increases and so brands are recognising that you have to go where your audience is, if that happens to be a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group that’s where you need to be.”
The PR industry was initially slow to see the potential of new media. Now it’s playing catch up and needs to ensure enough practitioners are up to speed with how to influence in the sector.
Stephen said: “Practitioners need to understand how these networks work, so when they get questions from the brands and the organisations that they work with, they are well placed to handle them. It comes down to skills and to being digitally native. PRs have to embrace this shift because the industry is changing so fast. The new forms of media are already being prioritised by clients ahead of traditional ones in some cases. ”
This is not an issue faced just by the UK PR industry. Stephen advises clients across Europe, as well as those assisted globally by the agency from North America, Asia and Latin America.
Training is part of the key to maintaining the UK’s position as global leaders in the digital sector. Whether you are part of a global agency, an SME, or a freelancer, the advice is the same: “Overcome your fear and be brave,” says Stephen. “Start engaging in continuous professional development so that you are able to add these new skills because it’s very clearly the future of the public relations profession and that’s why agencies such as my own have put so much into professional development. We have our own university programme and one of the programmes that I operate is social media training, right the way across the agency at all levels.”
Stephen led a group of practitioners as part of the work of CIPR Social Media Panel to create a handbook for social media practitioners called Share This published by Wiley last year. A second version called Share This Too was published in September.
And he says students, looking for rapid professional progression should be getting digitally native now: “For a student or for someone new coming into the industry, use these different forms of media, start building networks and creating content right now – don’t wait until a week before you graduate or when you start looking for a job because if you do it right now, the chances are you will be spotted and you will walk into a job when you leave university. There’s a real dearth of skills at the moment, so the smart people that have the skills are progressing really quickly and getting ahead.”
There’s more from Stephen Waddington on his blog or on Twitter @wadds. His latest book, Brand Vandals written with co-author Steve Earl, will be published later this month.