Let’s go back in time for a moment.
It’s 1973 and my uncle just started his first job. His office is in New York and he takes the train early every morning. Before boarding the train, he picks up his copy of the Wall Street Journal from the newsstand outside the train station. He makes polite conversation with the people around him on the platform, but once on the train, he quickly falls asleep until the train makes its final stop at Grand Central Station. Until he arrives at work, he remains rather cut off from people he knows.
Now let’s move forward a few decades to the year 2010.
Like my uncle, I make the daily train commute into New York for my first job. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. A large coffee is the only thing I purchase before boarding the train. As soon as I sit, I open up my Kindle, download the Wall Street Journal, turn on my iPod, and check my phone for messages. When I get to work, I check two sets of e-mail and begin to look up our clients in the news.
As much as I hate to say it, the differences in these routines prove how much more reliant I am on technology than my uncle was over thirty years ago. Even when it is not necessary– let’s face it, who else is going to be awake and texting my phone at 6am? – I feel compelled to stay connected to the world.
But I am not the only technology-addicted individual out there.
Although Eric and Jeff still enjoy getting their fingers ink-smudged by old-fashioned hard copies of the day’s newspapers, newspapers seem to be going extinct on the train. Everyone has iPads, Kindles, Nooks, or whatever e-reader you can think of.
Most of my friends have Blackberrys or iPhones that are continuously connected to the Internet. I rarely sit through a dinner or coffee date without one of my friends checking Facebook, Twitter, or their e-mail. And, I can’t even fathom how many hours of my life I allowed to dribble away as I watched You Tube videos.
And while its rather obvious to me how technology has impacted the way we communicate as individuals, it wasn’t until I started working here that I gave much thought to how much of a challenge these new innovations present for companies.
By the time the morning paper releases new news, it has already become old news to the rest of us. Through Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, the Internet gives everyone a voice with which to report and broadly offer their own interpretation of events, even as they unfold.
This also hits on issues of control. Once upon a time, companies – and by extension their PR functions – had tighter control on their reputations by virtue of the fact that they possessed the loudest voice with which to steer what was said about them and when – and by who. The Internet has become the great leveler, giving the individual their own public pulpit from which to offer their on insights. For instance, I am pretty sure we all heard about YouTube video of the Domino’s employees tampering with food that went viral rather quickly. Domino’s corporate office was beaten up a bit by the trade press for being slow out of the gate in responding to that spiraling crisis, which damaged their reputation.
So, what’s a company to do?
To be honest, there isn’t a simple solution. For now, PR agencies are doing the only thing they can do: treat the Internet as a friend, not a foe.
One of my jobs at S&A is to help our clients stay on top of the news and issues that are of interest to their business – and that means research to find out what’s being written and said in the media. Honestly, I can’t imagine how PR people used to do it before the Internet came around!
To ensure my morning research remains thorough, I use two different databases to find news articles related to our clients and their competitors. In addition, I receive instant e-mail notifications any time a blog, news article, or website mentions one of our clients or a subject related to them. For instance, I get at least ten e-mails each day updating me about what’s happening in the world of municipal bonds.
But we don’t just leverage the Internet after the news is out. We rely on it to help us understand what’s happening in our client’s markets and industries so we can counsel them on how to have their own say in what the PR biz calls the online “conversation.” Every press release, blog, or report requires hours of research before a client or the public can see it.
Last week, I drafted writing my first press release. While one of my colleagues worked on the ‘official’ version of the press release that would go to the client, I worked in parallel on the sidelines, drafting my own version to get some first-hand practice at developing a press release.
I turned directly to the Internet. I spent about a week researching our client and the software, looking up investment terms on online dictionaries, and reading previous press releases. I constantly checked and re-checked sources and facts to ensure the accuracy of my work.
After two more days of writing, I finally produced my first press release. (Granted, my collegue turned his draft around in a few hours!)
I won’t lie, it wasn’t perfect – in fact, when Jeff called me in to his office to review my press release, it was covered in red pen marks. Keeping in mind that press releases rarely are perfect within the first draft, I take each critique as something to improve on next time – which will begin with my second, practice press release that I will write tomorrow.
When I get on the morning train with my bundle of electronics, I will start thinking of how I will use the Internet to research my new practice release and begin preparing myself for another day in the new generation of PR.