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Public Relations in Today’s Digital World

Today’s digital landscape has changed the make-up of many industries, including the public relations field. PR professionals are expected to know more than just how to write a press release, plan an event, or deal with the media. They need to tweet, connect with influencers, analyze data, monitor feedback, and think about conversion.

“I think public relations has had a revival in the past ten years,” says Sandra BK, a media executive, former documentary filmmaker, and entrepreneur, who is currently a course director in Full Sail University's Public Relations master’s degree program. “It used to be that there weren’t many jobs for PR practitioners, but now it’s become a higher-paying position and a more sought-after field. Companies are realizing, ‘Oh, I really need a big public relations team.’”

BK is the founder and marketing director of TREKT Himalaya and Hardcore Nepal, a pair of companies that specialize in educational tours to the Himalayas and Nepal. She’s built these companies from the ground up, and uses her firsthand experience promoting them and dealing with international marketing to teach her students about social media and public relations strategies on a global scale.

In the past several years, a number of trends have emerged in the PR industry, with no sign of disappearing anytime soon. The biggest factor related to these new trends is – no surprise – social media. The rise of everything from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine has changed the way public relations teams operate in a number of ways. These networks give consumers the opportunity to speak directly to a brand or a client; PR professionals used to be able to dictate what information was being released and when, but conversations are a two-way street now.

“Public relations professionals used to make direct, one-way statements to the media or the public,” says BK, “but now, because of social media, we’re always having this ongoing conversation with the public. Everybody is online now, and they’re communicating with our brands and our clients constantly.”

A much wider audience for a PR team means it’s not just about journalists anymore – bloggers are the new influencers. “PR practitioners used to really focus on having good relationships with big media, but now the media target has grown,” says BK, who teaches Innovative Public Relations Tools and Resources, one of many digital-focused courses in Full Sail's Public Relations program. “There are bloggers and YouTube personalities with millions of followers that we’re needing to develop relationships with now.” Today, a good relationship with a key influencer can bring a wealth of publicity to a brand.

All of these factors have resulted in an increase in feedback monitoring, the act of tracking consumers’ behavior online and responding directly to compliments, complaints, and questions. There’s other monitoring going on too: PR professionals must now pay attention to data. “There’s been a huge explosion of data,” says Dr. Tom Vizcarrondo, a corporate marketing professional with more than 20 years’ experience and a Ph.D. in mass communications. “Public relations departments have unbelievable amounts of individualized data that can help them micro-target individuals rather than targeting an entire market.”

“We think of PR professionals as good writers, and creative and personable people,” says Vizcarrondo, who teaches Reputation Management Strategies as a course director in Full Sail University’s Public Relations program. “All of these things will continue to be important, but it’s important to have people with strong analytical skills too, who can go out and gather these huge amounts of data and really do something with it.”

BK predicts this data will help brands move toward a model where a social media presence relates directly to e-commerce. “There will continue to be an increased correlation between what you’re messaging and how you can convert people,” she says.

As these trends unfold, the amount of skills public relations professionals need to possess has increased tenfold. As a result, marketing and PR teams are working closer together, and recent college grads and employees are becoming more niche PR experts, says BK. “If you’re a manager or higher, you need to have broad knowledge because you need to know how a brand’s overall message will work across all channels – social media, websites, non-digital,” says BK. “But then you need a team of specialists: a blogger, an SEO expert, and people who are already influencers on specific social media channels.”

While non-digital PR is still important, the digital revolution is very clearly here to stay, and PR professionals will need to continue to adapt as digital trends evolve.

“The public’s attention span will continue to be shorter and shorter,” says BK. “So we have to consider: How can we message effectively in a few seconds? Because consumers are thinking, ‘Show me something quickly, and you’ve either got me or you don’t.’”

Full Sail University’s Public Relations Master’s program teaches the skills necessary for public relations professionals to thrive in the digital age, building a solid foundation in traditional PR methods, but also becoming adept at leveraging the new media and online tools key to success in the modern world . To learn more, click here.

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