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The Art & Science of Public Relations - It Doesn't Have To Be Russian Roulette if You Don't Want It to Be

In the first part of his new regular series exposing the inner workings of video game PR, Creative Traction's Duane Brown presents an informal introduction to the key elements of effective online public relations.

I have a confession to make. This series is going to have a conversational tone to it. I plan to be honest, forthright and pull no punches. I welcome all feedback, good or bad, and hope you enjoy this series.

What I may lack in “real world experience”, I more than make up for with intimate knowledge as I’m part of Generation Y and most likely part of your target demographic. Joey Reiman, CEO of BrightHouse, used to say the following:

"Before you can be creative, you must be courageous. Creativity is the destination, but courage is the journey."

I hope to inspire both courage and creativity once you are done this series. Now on with the article!

I work in a department that is global in presence. We have someone in every company and organization around the world, including the White House. However, we’re one of the most misunderstood areas of business next only to my friends in QA.

My fellow foot soldiers and I often toil away alone to get the job done and when things go wrong, we are often one of the first blamed (both internally and externally). When things go right, we are often last to get thanked. We’ve been called flacks, spin doctors, liars, and a host of names my mom wouldn’t want me saying. We may throw the party, but we are not the center of attention. Trust me, I know. We are, of course, talking about public relations, my friends.

I’m going to ask that you forget everything you know about public relations. Tuck it away, put it in a metal box, and chuck it out your window for the duration of this and future columns. I would like to paint you a picture of how public relations is changing and what the future might hold.

Public Relations

In essence, public relations is about opening the channels of communication between your organization and its various stakeholders, whether they are investors, the community, employees, government or users.

Public relations involves:

  1. Evaluation of public attitudes and opinions.
  2. Formulation and implementation of an organization's procedures and policy regarding communication with its public.
  3. Coordination of communication programs.
  4. Developing rapport and goodwill through a two way communication process.
  5. Fostering a positive relationship between an organization and its public constituents.

The above definition of what public relations is, is not what you would get if you asked most people what public relations was. We don’t have the greatest image, which is funny, as it’s our job to shape an image or idea for what a company is more then anything.

If you can achieve the above on a day-to-day bases, you are doing better then one could hope for, because public relations is as much of an art as it is a science. The times are changing and as public relations moves online, these definitions become more of a reality.

Online Public Relations

Online public relations is providing greater tools and opportunities that are equal to, or even eclipse, what is currently available today. You can now reach anyone in the world with an Internet connection in an instance. You can build communities around your product and increase your goodwill.

However, the public now has the same power if they feel you are not telling the truth. A message, good or bad, spreads fast on the Internet, and you don’t have the luxury to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist anymore. For example, Sony’s fake PSP blog from late last year, which we will get into in our next column.

In this column, we are going into the different areas that online public relations cover. In future columns we’ll cover how to use these different areas, how to do it safely, bridging the gap between online and offline PR and lastly, what tools to use to track your messages once it’s out there.

Now before you read any further, I need you to read an ebook called The New Rules of PR for the both of us. Regardless of whether you are a public relations practitioner or the founder of your company, if you are sending out a press release you should read this ebook and use it to your advantage. It’s a competitive market out there and you’ll need every advantage you can get. Done? Good, lets move on.


The seven areas that online public relations covers are as follows:

Press Releases

If you read the ebook, then there are only three pieces of valuable information I can add at this time. One, read it again in six months. Two, this ebook is your new bible and should be required reading for everyone sending out press releases, especially a public relations firm/person you hire in the future. Three, only send out a press release or put it online if you actually have newsworthy information. You’ll know it’s newsworthy because of the following:

  • It’s something new, different, unusual, controversial or outlandish
  • Someone has done something heroic, highly admirable or unusual
  • It is something that will catch the general public's interest and attention
  • The story has an impact on the general public
  • The story relates to a prominent local, regional, national or international issue or trend

Taking your press release online is only going to strengthen your online presence and help make a journalist’s job, somewhat, easier.

Blogs

A blog is a journal or diary of events usually displayed in a reverse chronological order. Blogs are changing how we communicate on a global basis. They may have started out as purely text based entities, but now have risen to a mass medium which now encompass the use of video, photos and audio on some blogs. There are 55 million blogs online, and there is at least one for every industry and niche interest you can think of. Fans, consumers, the media and your grandma are writing and updating blogs globally. Using a blog to communicate with your community or to update internal employees on an on-going subject will help open the two-way channels of communication.

Wikis

A wiki is a website. However, it’s different from most websites because anyone can update and edit the site. Wikipedia is the most common known wiki out there today. Wikis have been used for everything from collaborating on projects to growing a user-base knowledge on a topic. In the next column, we’ll look at an “unusual” use for a wiki and one that could take off within the industry and save you money.

Message Boards

Message boards date back to the humble days of the Internet; pre-1991. Message boards still hold a lot of weight on the Internet today and are used by communities wishing to communicate with each other, but don’t need instant replies, which the use of e-mails or IM would allow.

Podcasts

Podcasts are audio programs, much like a radio show, but delivered online to the consumer if they chose to listen to your program. Larry Hryb, a.k.a. “Major Nelson” from Microsoft, is a great example of compelling content that his community wants to listen to.

Video

I don't think this even needs an explanation. YouTube, Metacafe and Revver are all poplar video sites on the Internet. The Mentos & Coca Cola video is a great example of compelling content. Compelling content is what makes your game stand out, and you need to bring that to your online PR efforts. Standing out from the crowd and giving your community something they would watch is only going to help promote your game.

Social Networks

Much like video and podcasts, you are going to need to make compelling content for your user base. MySpace, Facebook and FaceParty are all social networks that are doing well, and especially for the niche they go after.

Online Magazines/Newsletters

Starting an online publication is a great way to communicate with your audience. As always, provide compelling content and you are off to a good start. In my next column I’ll talk more about what is compelling content.

Conclusion

A lot of the tools above will facilitate and open the channels of communication with you and your community. However, you need to provide compelling content, not force it on your fans & customers and listen when your community speaks. I hope the examples are a good primer for our next column.

As I mentioned before, next time we’ll cover how to use these different areas, how to do it safely, bridging the gap between online and offline PR and what tools to use to track your messages once it’s out there.

Lastly, I want to use our next column to show some unique ways to use the above tools and reach your community with compelling content. You’ll have to be a trendsetter, but if you are willing to take some risk, you can be a leader in online PR. Until next time, please practice safe, ethical and smart PR.

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