Geff Green, deputy head of department, Media Arts and Communication, Sheffield Hallam University tells Patricia Mascarenhas how the public relations industry faces challenges as media fragments and social media redefines consumers` relationship with an organisation.
What are the challenges traditional PR faces?
PR agencies, globally, are forced to keep up with the changes in digital technology and social media if they want to be successful. However, India is interesting as, for instance, it also has a growing readership of traditional newspapers in local dialects, so awareness of cultural diversity and the media habits of a diverse population are important. Social media means protecting a company`s reputation is a 24/7 concern. With digital media it has never been easier for the public to get their views published, this means companies cannot rely purely on their advertising budget to enhance their standing and reputation. Thus PR professionals need to be able to react quickly so they minimize negative coverage and maximize positive coverage.
What are the changes that are taking place in the media industry today?
PR and the media are continually evolving. They feed off each other in a way they develop as publishers and businesses and, find new and innovative ways to communicate. Now-a-days, people are looking to websites and social media as the most immediate and reliable news sources. We belong to an `instant` news culture in which we know about the story as it unfolds. Previously, news was revealed first by media professionals, social media like Twitter means allow news to be broken by anyone.
Does this lead to the decline of trained PR and media professionals?
No. Even with more people having access to mediums where they can `publish` – from social media to blogs and websites –there remains a need for trained PR and media professionals. They need to know how to use social media and to understand how other people use them. They need to be trained to understand media law and ethics so they can communicate professionally and within the boundaries of media law.
Social media is now an integral part of PR, how do the two compliment each other?
PR professionals must be able to adapt to current trends so they they communicate effectively. Organisations also need to think about their public image and not artificially separate the activities and aims of marketing and PR departments. Even within social media, there are constantly evolving trends. As Facebook has now been in existence for over a decade, we are starting to see a decline in Facebook users in parts of the world where it has been popular for some time. Though initially the realm of younger people – particularly teenagers – the generation that began using Facebook is now older and younger people now are looking for a new forum. The platform may change, but the desire to keep in touch with news and friends, associates and also brands will not go away, professionals need to keep up with these trends.
Do you think PR courses need to incorporate a range of skills for handling digital media?
PR courses need to keep up with the changes in industry in order to prepare students successfully for what they will experience in the work place. All courses in PR and media should incorporate a range of skills for digital media. Students need to be aware of the differences needed to write for the medium they are working for, but also to design the presentation of information online. Writing a 1,000 word feature for a newspaper obviously requires a different writing style from a 140 character tweet. Students need to be prepared for what to expect when they begin their careers. Teachers who have worked or work in media or PR are ideal as they bring professional experiences alongside teaching.
What qualifications and traits do companies look for when hiring media professionals?
In the UK, many jobs in journalism would expect you to have a degree, be able to write in shorthand and have qualifications in media law and public affairs. In PR, you would also be expected to be a graduate, preferably with a PR specialisation, and have relevant work experience. Both industries value qualifications from professional bodies, including the Chartered Institute Public Relations (CIPR). Make sure you start you professional networking early and don`t wait until you have finished your degree to develop your contacts.
Advice to young aspirants?
A career in PR or journalism are both extremely competitive fields and require strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to think quickly and creatively, meet tight deadlines and often work long hours. Experience and commitment are the keys to finding your way to your first paid job. Whether you have an opportunity to write for your school or college newspaper, or write a blog, you must have writing experience to talk about at an interview. Never underestimate the value of traditional writing as a foundation for more technology-based communication activities.