A few years ago I had the fear. Big time.
The digital fear.
A fear so profound that it struck to the heart of my professional PR self-image.
For a good few years, I’d been winging it.
Standing King Canute-like on the media relations beach desperately trying to hold back the digital tide.
Sure, I talked a good game and could do the social media basics pretty well. And I was offering as good “social media” advice as most PRs in Scotland at the time.
But I knew I didn’t get it.
I was advising clients with one arm tied behind my back and it was only going to get worse.
My pet fear was being in a meeting (or worse still a pitch) with some high-flying UK marketing director and being asked a tricky question. As a senior PR, I should have known these things.
It turns out I wasn’t alone. You’re not alone. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
Option one is learning to manage the fear, the dull ache in the back of your mind that you need to adapt and get with the programme. For many senior PRs, this is A-OK. Here’s why.
Fact: The PR industry is booming. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Fact: If you’re a senior PR pro with 15-20 years+ experience you’ll have made a good living out of media relations-based PR. Why rock the boat? Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.
Fact: Your thoughts may be turning to (early) retirement. There’s still gold in them thar media relations hills and can you really be bothered reinventing yourself. You’ve got a life, after all.
Fact: There are thousands of senior PR pros (the vast majority) doing very nicely indeed on media relations and a little social media dabbling. You’re not alone.
Fact: Perception matters. The vast majority of businesspeople perceive PR as getting you into the papers or keeping you out of them. It’s so much easier to give people what they want, to play to the gallery.
But when you’re lying in bed at night or having a shave in the morning, thinking about the day ahead. Thinking about how your advice is going to shape your organisation’s communications…
Does hiding your head under the covers feel right? Shaving’s difficult if you can’t look yourself in the mirror.
Yes, you’ve been around the block. Yes, you can instinctively dole out high-level crisis management advice with your eyes closed. But are you giving strategic advice if you don’t know your SEO from your elbow?
And it’s not all about you either.
Just 12 per cent of PR pros in the UK with more than 21 years’ experience feel confident in their social and digital skills.
There is another option, option two.
It’s painstaking, takes years, and you’ll make a complete fool of yourself, repeatedly. But it’s worth it. These are the benefits:
A: You will understand things better from a client’s/boss’s perspective. This will help solve clients’ problems, make you more valuable and move you up whatever food chain you’re part of.
B: You’ll move on from “editorial value” to “proper” analytics.
You’ll understand and be able to show cause and effect.
C: For the first time you’ll “get” it.
How all the disparate aspects of PR/marketing/digital marketing/content marketing/social media marketing/SEO fit together.
D: If you’re a consultant you’ll have a lot more tools in your toolbox.
More services to sell.
E: You’ll learn new stuff every day (digital is like that).
Continuous Professional Development will stop being an abstract concept/chore and become a daily habit.
F: You’ll develop passionately held views on your profession and meet like-minded people from all over the world.
So, to talk in pop-up language, I’m going to ask you to make a choice:
Yes, I want to revitalise my career.
No, I have no interest in my professional development and am doing fine thank you.
Those who would have clicked no, see you later.
For the yeses, here are my 10 top tips for senior PRs looking to overcome their digital fear.
Two things here. The first is about embracing the underlying concept of content marketing. I’ve blogged about this before, but it bears repeating. Give it all away. Yes, your competitors could learn a thing or two. Yes, you might not be comfortable with a full disclosure approach. And yes, prospective clients might snaffle your insights and try and do it themselves.
But what’s the alternative? Hide under the covers? Show you have an opinion, become an authority, share, contribute…it’s good karma.
The other thing is not seeing digital as something young folk do. Something you’ll never catch up with. Digital marketing is changing every day and it’s a new industry.
And when it comes down to it, us senior PR pros have already got the strategic piece and more often than not are good writers. We’re ideally placed to advise and do.
Writing press releases is an art form. It takes years to master. But let’s face it, who speaks like that.
If you like writing – and please give up now if you don’t, you’re in the wrong job – you will love digital. Whatever content you’re producing, good writing is at its heart. The ability to tell a story.
It’s just you’re now telling that story in an engaging way. You’re speaking in language people can connect with.
Grasping the digital nettle will give your writing – the bit about PR that you love – a new lease of life. Trust me, I’m a PR man.
Like most people seeking to change, it’s hard to do it on your own. There aren’t that many people who’ve made the jump from senior traditional PRs to senior new PRs. And still fewer who are prepared to help you a bit along the way.
And why would they. The entire PR industry is playing digital catchup and for many senior new PR converts, the fewer people who understand it all the better.
And it’s those people with whom you have some sort of personal connection from whom you learn the most.
These trailblazers usually produce great content (often on an intimidatingly regular basis). Subscribe to their emailers. Getting stuff in your inbox somehow feels more personal.
And the key thing here? You know that at heart they’re PR men and women/ex-journalists, people like you who have made the leap into this brave new digital world. So you’re more likely to take on board what they’re saying. They’re on the same journey.
It’s fashionable in some circles to regard UK PR industry trade body the CIPR as an irrelevance. Not so. Over the past few years they have transformed and are doing great work, particularly on the digital agenda.
And a lot of the content they produce is framed from a traditional PR perspective. Explained in simple language to help its members to transform themselves too. Here’s a good recent example of a story well told with different forms of content.
They do some good group training courses.
Or how about a discreet (two senior PRs around two laptops) bespoke training course at your house/office/random coffee shop. With someone who’s gone through the same digital transformation you’re embarking on? Someone like you? Someone who’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
Social media marketing, content marketing, search engine optimisation, inbound, this, that, and the other.
There’s a lot to get your head round.
And a lot of content competing for your attention.
So, do you read books? Do you have favourite authors? Do you seek out other books by them once you’ve read one you like?
I do. And I do the same with content. Here are my top picks for senior PR pros who have made a commitment to taming that digital fear (best one first):
Quick Sprout by Neil Patel
So, you’ve started beavering away in the background. You’ve no longer got the fear. But you perhaps don’t have the confidence in your new-found knowledge to do much with it?
It’s time to get involved. You only learn through doing.
If I had one top tip for any senior PR pro committed to increasing their digital knowledge it would be: write a blog.
There are plenty of free platforms. WordPress and Blogger are good ones. Write about something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t matter what. You’re a writer. You’ve always told stories.
People will be interested in what you have to say. And you’ll gradually understand how traditional PR fits seamlessly with new PR.
And start expressing a view. What’s the worst that could happen? A bit of egg on your face? Contribute to forums, attend events, give a talk, do a podcast, pass on whatever you learn. After all, you’re not alone. Most senior PR pros could benefit from your new-found knowledge. Embrace that mindset change.
One thing though, work out how much you want to give away about yourself. We all have our personal comfort level.
On my running blog, it’s warts and all. My work blog (this one) I’m a little more guarded. You have to keep a private life with private thoughts. But I do share as much as I can. This is a great post on the subject.
I’m neither a techno-whizz nor a Luddite. There’s always a happy medium.
But having read a post by Ben Matthews (ex trad PR who’s embraced digital) I invested in a good laptop when I set up my own business around a year ago.
A fast computer coupled with speedy broadband is the bare minimum for new PRs. Use the Cloud, get extensioned up on Chrome or Firefox, appify your smartphone and sync it like crazy.
There’s no way round technology on your journey from trad to new PR. It’s faffy, takes ages, you WILL spend days banging your head against a brick wall but eventually you’ll get there. And you’ll be doing stuff in a quarter of the time than you used to.
Now here it depends what you’re interested in and where your strengths lie.
But if you want to stand out from the PR crowd, at least get a basic understanding of SEO.
Better still, take a deep dive into it and start building it into your campaigns.
Think about it. As senior PR pros we write (or more likely delegate) the odd blog post. We dabble with social media and know enough about it in our personal lives to get by professionally.
But SEO…that’s voodoo. I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t be, and there is no way you should be advising on any aspect of digital communications without being SEO-savvy.
I’ve written about this before at length. And don’t listen to people who tell you content is king now so SEO is old hat. Piffle. Balderdash. Tripe. Read my blog post.
To invest this much time and effort changing, you’re going to want to know the business benefits, right? But you know it makes sense, or you wouldn’t still be reading at this point.
Here’s why you need to put the hours, days, weeks and years in. And here’s the way to justify (quite rightly) all those extra services you and your team can offer clients/the C-Suite.
Nothing sells better than someone who loves their job.
I’m putting words in your mouth here. You might be more than happy milking that media relations cow. But for most senior PRs, doing digital is their number one concern.
Think of the effect on your team if you commit to transforming your PR practice. Think how that’ll rub off on your staff, and your clients/bosses.
If you make this commitment – and it’s a big one – make sure you take everyone else along on your journey.
My name’s Dave. You can find lots of stuff about me online. I’ve worked as a PR consultant in Scotland for 18 years and things have changed. A few years back I decided to overcome my digital fear and have never looked back.
And you can too.Learn How to Be a Digital PR