The New PR

Last week, Jeremy Wright joined our team at Thornley Fallis & 76 design.  Since then, several friends have asked me how we were able to attract Jeremy to join a public relations agency.

It’s the new PR.

For several years, we have been moving Thornley Fallis beyond old style public relations to understand and participate in the new communications, communities, and social relationships that universal search, social media and ubiquitous online access have made possible.

This new public relations is grounded in anthropology, sociology, and technology.

The new public relations is about understanding relationships between people, what people want and need from these relationships, and how they form, sustain, and use communities of interest.

We don’t see people as target audiences.  We see people through the lense of communities.  And we participate in those communities. We earn our place by understanding the dynamics of the communities and adding value.  We add value by helping those communities to function better and by contributing unique and new content to the conversation.

We still draw on our ability to write clearly, an understanding of what people are interested in, and a knowledge of traditional media and how they work. (They haven’t turned off the lights at traditional media yet – and I don’t think they will in my lifetime.)

However, these traditional skills now must be supplemented by other expertise.  An understanding of community formation.  What makes people seek out one another?  What makes a community grow? What makes it die? What is the impact of the removal of barriers to collective action online? How far can we push social media’s ability to transcend the limitations of geographic proximity and bring people together in one conversation, regardless of where they are in the world? What of the new online intimacy? How do we revise our notions of privacy in this era? How do we help people satisfy their desire to extend their online relationships with real world relationships?

Public relations practitioners must also know how to create the new meeting places.  As the ties that bind us to traditional media break down, people find new ways to discover the information they need and to share it with others.  The combination of search with social software provides us all with the power to do this.  But some solutions are better than others.  The new public relations practitioner must know what makes a social platform work and how to improve on what is already there.

Measurement is essential to understand what is going on and the impact of what we do. Old yardsticks are inadequate to gauge the new dynamics. GRP’s, impressions, reach – these are the metrics of a bygone era.  We must develop and apply new metrics for engagement, momentum, influence and the growth, depth and characteristics of our social graphs.

New possibilities, new tools, new channels.  All call for new people with new expertise.

The new public relations agency is a hybrid that draws on new areas of expertise and skill sets.  We’ve been trying to create this kind of agency at Thornley Fallis and 76 design. More than anything, I think it’s the thrill of participating in that innovation and invention that brought Jeremy Wright to us.

Of course,we’re not the only firm doing this. We know that several other firms are heading down this route. Firms like Shift, Voce, Edelman.

Bottom line: For those who think of public relations as they might have even five years ago, please take another look. You’ll find something quite different under the hood at the thought- leading public relations firms.

This isn’t your parents’ public relations.

Social media authorship is mandatory for credibility as an advisor

Tom Foremski strikes a nerve with his post, PR Firms that Don’t Blog Yet Offer New/Social Media Practices . Tom argues:

… I’ve always said that PR firms cannot claim to know anything about new/social media if they aren’t using it themselves.

One way to check out if a PR firm understands blogging, etc, is to see if they have a blog of their own. Many don’t, or if they do, they post very infrequently, and usually after meetings abut what they will blog about. Yet nearly every PR firm offers a new/social media practice to clients and claims that they understand this medium. This is BS imho.

I think that Tom is absolutely right. Usually, I keep my views to myself on this. But Tom’s post and the comments in response to it really hit home.

So, this is a one-time post about this topic. And before I start, please excuse me if this reads as self-congratulatory. It’s not meant to be.

But it is meant to be a challenge to all those companies that are out there peddling social media advice from the safe distance of observers. People who say "you don’t need to be active in social media to be able to advise on how to do it right."

So, to you folks, I say:

You can’t understand the process of creation unless you’ve created something

I’m a big believer that you need to be a creator of social media to truly understand it.

Social media is online communications in which people switch easily from being audience to author – without the need to know coding (thank you social software!)

How can you really understand social media if you restrict yourself to the audience role? You are really only watching one half of social media. You have to experience the work, agony and joy of creation to really know both sides of social media.

Go to next heading if you want to skip the Thornley Fallis story

Have we put our money, time and effort where my mouth is? You betcha we have. Not only me, but all the people I work with.

Back in ’04, we began experimenting with social media behind the firewall – with both a Wiki to replace our traditional intranet and a blog. (I started out with an MSN Spaces account restricted only to the people in my MSN friends list – social media on training wheels.)

In ’05, I came out in public with the Pro PR blog . Shortly after that, Terry Fallis along with David Jones (then a Thornley Fallis employee) launched the Inside PR podcast .

At the same time, we encouraged all of the people in the company to get involved in blogging (that was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter). And as people began to post, we redeveloped the Thornley Fallis Website so that the most recent posts from each of our employee blogs are front and centre. In this way, we give visitors a chance to know our company through the thoughts of the people who work here, not through "brochureware".

Today, if people come to our Website, they can read the views and insights that our team shares each an every day through: Michael O’Connor Clarke’s Uninstalled , Michael Seaton’s The Client Side , Bob LeDrew’s FlackLife , John Sobol’s The Talking Shop and the collectively authored blogs of the women in our Toronto office, PRGirlz , the folks in our Ottawa office, Capital PR , and our 76design team, shift+control .

Last year, Terry Fallis self-published his novel, the Best Laid Plans, and promoted it by reading it in a podcast series on his blog. Not only did he explore a whole new model of publishing, but his novel was awarded the Leacock Award for Humour . (And now he has a traditional publishing deal which will see his novel published and hit bookstores in the autumn season. Way to go, Terry!)

We also created some apps – FriendsRoll and TopLinks – which we hope will help revitalize the blogroll and bring a greater sense of community to blogs.

And along the way, we’ve played with all the Shiny New Objects. We’ve learned which are simply really neat technology and which have real utility. And we actively participate and generate content in those that we find useful. Twitter, Facebook, Dopplr, and many more.

Oh yes. We also took our social media involvement back into the real world. We’ve helped to organize the Third Tuesday social media meetups to provide a place where we can meet in the real world with others who share our passions for social media.

Bottom Line: Social media authorship is the entry fee for social media credibility.

Where does that leave us? Well, when someone asks me a question about social media, I never have to preface my response with "They say…" or "They believe…" I can always say, "In my experience, I have discovered…" And that gives me real confidence that the advice I am providing is solid.

I listen to people who have never posted to a blog pronouncing their views and presenting themselves as experts in social media. And usually I politely keep my opinion to myself. But I’ll say it here. Very few of the people who aren’t active creators of social media really understand the nuances of the social media culture.

OK. That’s the end of my rant. What do you think?

What education are PR firms looking for in new recruits?

Kerri Birtch poses the question on the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms Weblog, “What level of of education is necessary or valued in the PR industry?”

Personally, I look for people who have at least an Honours BA. If the candidate possesses a graduate degree, I’ll spend extra time talking with her about her studies and what she drew from the experience of gaining a graduate degree. What I am looking for in this is the “extra spark” of insight, self awareness and maturity of thought.

How about a PR certificate? This can give an edge to one of two otherwise equal candidates because it gives me some assurance that the entry level prospect has been exposed to the mechanics of PR.

But more than anything, I’m looking for analytic and problem solving skills. PR consultants s must be able to listen to our clients, draw out relevant facts and assemble them in a coherent assessment and proposed solution. The outstanding consultant will draw on a set of PR tools. But she will also not be restricted by them. She will have a broader exposure to communication, sociology, and business that will enable her to find an effective solution to a problem.

That’s what I look for. How about you? What do you look for in a new hire for a public relations job?

A look behind the scenes at Canada's major public relations firms

Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms Are you interested in corporate communications and public relations ? Are you curious about the people who advise CEO’s and corporate communicators on the newest strategies and tactics?

If you answer yes to these questions, click over to the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms and subscribe to the RSS feed there.

and in Who leads Canada’s public relations firms? How did they get to where they are? What do they think makes each of their firms special? What advice would they give to young people who would like to pursue a career in public relations?

Next week, we’ll start a new series of video interviews in which I talk with the leaders of Canada’s PR firms about how they got to where they are, what makes their firms special, what advice they would give to young people starting out in public relations and other issues that they think are important to public relations today.

So, if you’re curious about the public relations industry and the people who head up the ‘s major PR firms, subscribe to the CCPRF blog and you’ll receive a stream of biweekly interviews.

Hear ChickAdvisor at Third Tuesday Toronto

“I love your bag! Where’d You Get That?”Your hair looks fantastic! What Salon do you go to?”What’s the best cleanser for oily skin?

Hold on. Don’t click away. Yes, you ARE on ProPR. What do these questions have to do with ProPR and social media, you might ask?

Ali de BoldOne of the great things about Web 2.0 and social media is that entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to market with relatively little initial capital. ChickAdvisor is a prime example of a company started this way. Founders Alex and Ali de Bold have drawn on their own resources – personal savings, family and friends, and credit cards – to bring their idea to life.

Alex and Ali describe ChickAdvisor as “a social shopping reviews website for women to share advice on everything from hair salons to health clubs. All content is user generated and focuses on the products and local services women use every day. Members can add reviews, send links to their friends, add items to their hotlists and click through to buy items locally or online. Nothing beats a good recommendation and that’s what ChickAdvisor is all about!”

Alex de BoldSince they started their service in September 2006, Alex and Ali have built a community around ChickAdvisor by appealing to a focused interest of a clearly identified group (shopping and women). They haven’t reached profitability yet. But they think they are on course to do so.

So, Alex and Ali are two people who know a lot about creating an interesting social site that serves a need for a defined audience. They also know a lot about the challenges of creating a viable Web 2.0 business.

And they’ll be sharing what they’ve learned when they appear at Third Tuesday Toronto on Wednesday January 23 (yes Third Tuesday Toronto is on a Wednesday this month!). If you’re in Toronto that night, come out and join the discussion. You’ll meet lots of other people who share an interest in social media and Web 2.0. And you’ll hear a presentation by some people who are “there and doing it” right now.

Third TuesdayThird Tuesday events are free.* But we have to guarantee a minimum to the pub where we hold the event. If you plan to attend, please RSVP on the Third Tuesday Toronto meetup site so that we can get an accurate forecast of the number of attendees.

CNW Group* Yes, there’s a reason why these events are free. They are organized by volunteers and direct costs such as the sound system and room charge are paid for by our sponsor, CNW Group. Thank you CNW. You make it possible for Canada’s social media community to gather and learn.