Public ​​Affairs and Public Relations in the Digital Age

When you Google public relations v. public affairs, the definitions and distinctions go on for pages and pages. Opinions and definitions are all over the board and there is little consensus. Just to make everyone mad, Advocacy.Marketing defines public affairs as promotion related to public policy; everything from support or opposition to legislation, coalition building, issue development and media education on specific policies.

At A.M we think public relations is more “product oriented.” So, Jack­-In-­The­-Box might hire a PR firm to help promote it’s new steak burrito and hire a public affairs firm when a mayor wants to ban that 850 calorie burrito from his city to fight obesity.

The real question today is how are public affairs and public relations changing in the digital age?​ Until recently both public affairs and public relations were mostly focused on impacting journalists. Good PR or PA firms hired ex-­reporters who pitched their former colleagues at newspapers and TV stations for good spin on a client or story. The key was developing relationships that led to credibility and influence. Mind you that strategy was regularly unsuccessful. For every “good” story, there was one that did not show the client in the best light. PR people have talked for years about delivering an unfiltered message directly to the audience they want to see it. THAT is digital marketing.

Through social media, blogs, email campaigns and search engine marketing, public affairs and public relations professionals are bypassing journalists and delivering unfiltered messages directly to the people they want to impact. It’s a no brainer­­ would you rather send a press release to a journalist in hope that he/she will buy your angle and write a “65% good story” about your client or would you rather send that release 100% unfiltered directly to your handpicked, targeted audience? Newspapers and the responsible journalists that write for those papers have done much to make our country what it is. Where would we be if Woodward and Bernstein had not exposed Watergate? Unfortunately everyday less and less people read a newspaper. Fewer and fewer watch the nightly news and radio is what we had before Pandora.

Today people seek news and information relevant to them, directly from individual, customized sources. Many people I know follow specific writers or bloggers on Twitter. That’s how they get the news­­ whenever they want it. They don’t wait for news to land on the porch every morning.

So while there is certainly still a role for PR and PA practitioners to influence reporters, the importance of that practice is continually diminishing due to the Internet. Responsible PR and PA people today are taking their clients’ message directly to the highly targeted audience of their choosing­­ not newspaper subscribers or Nielsen viewers.

How do we do it? At Advocacy.Marketing we employ a variety of social media, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, email and advertising tools to deliver custom targeted messages to custom­ targeted audiences. We know who is viewing our messages, for how long and we end up with names, phone numbers, email and home addresses of those that respond to our messages.

Let’s say you want California environmentalists to know of a new development at your company that will improve water quality. First we would craft an email to be sent to Facebook users that identify as enviros. We’d develop search engine ad(s) targeted to Californians looking for information about water and third we’d monitor sentiment on the Internet to see who is writing or blogging about water and send our message to them directly.

So in the digital age it still makes sense to send a press release to journalists­­ who may or may not write a positive story. Or you can use a full suite of digital techniques to make sure your unfiltered message gets to exactly the people you want to reach.