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Is Public Relations Dead?

Dustin Brackett
January 14, 2020

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In 2019 our team ventured into the world of podcasting and started the Gettin' Buzz'd video podcast. Hosted by our CEO and Founder, Dustin Brackett, and Business Development Manager, Michael Thebeau, the Gettin' Buzz'd podcast is all about pulling back the curtain on important marketing and sales tactics and topics with the goal of sharing some of our expertise and helping our listeners/viewers with actionable tips that they can implement right away.
Check out our second episode on Is Public Relations Dead with Yvonne Hall? Transcription of the episode is available below. Be sure to follow our Gettin' Buzz'd YouTube channel too!


Dustin: 00:10 Hey, welcome back! This is our second episode of Gettin' Buzz'd. I'm here with Michael Thebeau, our Business Development Manager at HIVE. I'm Dustin Brackett, CEO and Founder of HIVE Digital Strategy and today our expert guest is Yvonne Hall. She's our Senior Account Manager at HIVE Digital Strategy. 

Yvonne: 00:28 Hi. 

Dustin: 00:30 So, just like every other episode of Gettin' Buzz'd, we're highlighting a local beverage. Today we're actually drinking Breckenridge Vodka. I bucked the trend with these guys. They were drinking just Breckenridge Vodka and tonic and I have a grapefruit soda. So cheers. Yvonne, welcome to the podcast. 

Yvonne: 00:53 Absolutely. Thanks for having me. 

Dustin: 00:57 Today our topic is going to be public relations and is it dead or is there still an opportunity for public relations in today's marketing landscape? But before we get into that, Yvonne, give us a little bit of your background. Where did you start in marketing and what's been your role in that public relations realm? 

Yvonne: 01:24 I graduated with a mass communications degree with a public relations emphasis instead of going the video or journalist route. When I came out of school, my first position was actually at a marketing firm. They did integrated marketing. So, although we were running traditional marketing campaigns, there was a PR side of the house as well. I was really was able, from an account management side, to see the public relations that was were happening at our agency as well as the marketing and the creative that was happening at the agency. So, it started early on in my career and I was one of the few people of course that was actually working in the degree that I earned at college, which was super fun. Regardless of the position that I've had, I'm moving through my career. Although most have been called marketing positions or communications positions, they all had some facet of public relations in them. Normally, whether I'm on an agency side or working for a nonprofit or even a university, I have always been on pretty small team. So, we're all pitching in to do whatever marketing communications need to happen. 

Dustin: 02:59 That's great. So your expertise I guess kind of runs the gambit, right? Like from originally starting out and it was an integrated marketing and getting into some of the public relations and then transitioning into kind of the digital world. Right?

Yvonne: 03:14 Absolutely. I know this will be hard to believe, but when I started my career right after college, Facebook was not around. So what was it before there was before Facebook? I know it's, it's crazy. So, we were doing traditional public relations with fax machines. I know it's bizarre. We were not sending out press releases via email. We were not connecting with journalists on Twitter. We were creating press kits and actual pocket folders that are branded and you would send hard copy press releases to people from a brand standpoint. There was a Newswire, so we were able to use that. But we were sending things through the fax and getting responses in that way. So there, there was actually a huge displacement of public relations when social media came around. And it actually became viable in the business world. I think a lot of people in the PR industry would say that when social media came around, no one really thought of it as a business-use case. 

Dustin: 04:43 Definitely took a long time for it to be adopted that way. And I mean what I just heard you say though is we've just gotten lazier as marketing people. Like that was a whole lot of work, like putting together brand books and actually physically mailing things. I'm not in on that. 

Michael: 05:03 As social media started to emerge and stuff like that where you deep integrated into PR at that time. And how did that make you feel as you pushed towards that social and digital side of PR? 

Yvonne: 05:15 Well, it's actually a very interesting story that I'm not sure either of you really know, but I was working for a boutique PR firm, kind of when LinkedIn and Facebook were buzzwords in the business world of, 'well, can we really utilize this as a business communications tool? And how do we do that? And what would that even look like?' My boss at the time actually said, 'Hey, so a client just mentioned this LinkedIn thing to me and I don't really know what is. You seem interested in that kind of stuff. Do you want to look into that and see if it's a viable PR option?' I said, no, I don't want to get involved in that whatsoever. That's when I really started looking at LinkedIn and seeing, you know, is social media an option to help promote your business and coming up with ideas of how to position yourself as a brand expert, what sort of information to put out there. That kind of started making that switch for the clients in that PR agency. 

Dustin: 06:41 Well, I think that brings up a good point that everything has kind of moved that way, right? Everyone started to realize, oh, this social media thing's not going away. If you haven't adopted social media as part of your marketing, you're way behind anyway. But with everyone kind of diving in there, it felt like PR was just left over there on the shelf. Right? Like, we're all going digital. We we don't need to be writing press releases. So we get that question all the time, like, is PR still a thing? Like, do you actually need PR anymore? Isn't everything we're doing PR? So, you do actually need to be writing press releases. And what do you do with those press releases? What's your take on that? 

Yvonne: 07:30 Well, I think we should still write press releases and send them via fax. Yes. Kidding. 

Dustin: 07:34 There's got to be somebody that still has a fax, right? 

Yvonne: 07:39 Lots of people in healthcare insurance. 

Michael: 07:42 Oh yeah. Federal system. 

Yvonne: 07:45 Employee benefits. I think that it's all in the way you look at things. There are still a lot of people that don't feel like, in my opinion, that social media can be used as a form of public relations. And yet I was doing that many, many moons ago. I'm making sure that businesses could use social media as a communications medium for press. So it's all in how you look at things. I don't think PR is dead. I don't think PR will ever be dead. There is always going to be a way to promote yourself in a non-sales way in whatever digital format is coming next. So as long as you, from that PR mindset, think about things that way, PR will never be dead in my mind. 

Dustin: 08:42 That reputation a little bit came with the downfall of print. Right? I mean very few actual newspapers are still left. I know in Denver, we had two that dominated everything and one of them went away. With magazines and things like that, just readership and subscriptions are just way, way down every single year. I think that stereotype of, 'Oh, PR is gone, that's a dead way of thinking about marketing or advertising.' I think it probably aligns with what everyone's thinking of PR is, 'Oh, we want to get quoted in a magazine or we want an article written about us in the newspaper.' So when we think about PR for today and for 2020 and beyond, what does that actually look like? 

Yvonne: 09:36 Well, I want to address that. Yes, journalists are losing jobs, but what's happening more and more is that journalists are taking on additional jobs. So yet again, PR professionals are doing all the work and more work because they are trying to figure out which journalists are still on staff and how to create a relationship so that when they send that pitch over or that email over, they connect with them on Twitter, that it's actually going to be something that a journalist opens and looks at. So that's one side of where the industry is right now. 

Dustin: 10:14 So marketers have gotten lazier, but journalists got a pickup. 

Yvonne: 10:18 Absolutely. They're doing more work. PR is doing more work. But I think the other side of things is that PR professionals also had to learn more about digital marketing. Making sure that you have an end goal in mind is really important. Here at HIVE we are utilizing inbound PR, which is a mix of traditional PR or what public relations is now currently and SEO and digital marketing aspects so that it's not always about that earned media. It's not always about the quote in the magazine. Yes, that's great. Yes, it's great to get featured on the morning news, but that is few and far between these days and it's getting harder and harder to get those placements. So thinking about how can you utilize public relations, the press releases that you are turning out and get more longevity from them. We have found that it's actually a great fit for digital marketing, inbound marketing and SEO. 

Dustin: 11:32 Sure. So the way that like press releases were run previously is you have an angle, you write up a quick press release about it and obviously you want it to sound and read well, but there wasn't really that SEO focus. How do we make that shift like as we're writing press releases to optimize them for search? 

Yvonne: 11:58 Well, coming from the PR side actually positioned me well for a content marketing position because it is all writing-based. One of the things that kind of lays across all of those digital marketing pieces, whether it's inbound PR, blogging, web content, it's all about keywords. If you do your keyword research first, then you have the key words that you need to rank for on the pages of your website. Beyond there, if you know what people are searching for on the internet, then you know what keywords you need to put in your press release. And whether that gets picked up or not, those keywords are still relevant to what people are searching for. 

Dustin: 12:55 That makes a lot of sense. 

Michael: 12:56 To paint kind of broad strokes here, if I'm a business owner or a marketing manager or something like that and we're not doing much on the PR side or we're going to explore it, what can we do on our own that's going to be PR-focused and help move that or start the PR for us? And then what do you think is something additional that a PR strategist or a PR agency may add to that? What's the difference of what you can do on your own or where you really get some extra out of your PR? 

Yvonne: 13:35 I think things that people can do on their own is possibly setting up a press page or a press kit, an electronic press kit on their site. There's a couple of different ways you can do it depending on how your site is set up, what type of CMS you're using. Because then all of those keywords, everything that you're putting out there immediately starts attracting the type of people that you're looking for. When you are creating that press kit, think about it from a journalist perspective, almost like the journalist is the buyer persona that you're trying to reach. What exactly is that journalists looking for that will bring a journalist to your site? But you also need to make sure that you make it easy for that journalist to add additional information if they do pick something up and decide to write a story for you. So are there bios available of your leadership team? Do you have headshots available of your leadership team? What about your logo? Are there images that are so closely associated with your business that those need to be included? Are all of those images available for them to download and use? Are there ALT text already built into those images so that they don't have to think about that? Changing it from IMG_774 to an actual name. That's always a good idea. We have a blog post on how to actually create those depending on what type of CMS that you have or anyone can always reach out to me about that. Other things that you can do on your own is really think about if you are already looking at your keyword research and how people are finding your website, taking a look at that and seeing if those fit into PR. Is that something that you have capability on your team that someone can write a press release and if not, that's when I think you reach out to a professional. Same thing for the press kit. Maybe you reach out to a professional and say what else is needed here? How can we add a little bit more to this and make it more journalist-friendly, more search engine friendly, those sorts of aspects. If you already have a public relations team within your company or you are working with a PR agency, just asking those questions, are you all thinking about keywords when you're creating these press releases? Have you optimized for search engines in your writing in your titles. And can we take that press release and add it to our press page on our website? All of those are great questions and great ways to get started. So you're not saying that you don't send out the press release because you're still writing a press release. Ideally, the first goal of that is to actually get press coverage absolutely picked up. 

Dustin: 17:01 And so you're still sending that out? 

Yvonne: 17:04 Absolutely. 

Dustin: 17:06 The secondary piece is, well let's get this to last, right? Let's get it on our website and let's start drawing and traffic based on that press release. 

Yvonne: 17:15 Right. So just like I'm on the marketing or the advertising digital advertising side, there's different components. There is an inbound and an outbound. So the outbound is sending the press release to the places where you would like to get earned media, whether that's your local publications, industry publications, wherever is relevant for you to send that press release. But then the inbound side of it is making sure that you have that on your site in a way that it is pulling people to your site. 

Dustin: 17:52 Well, that makes sense. Any other tips that you have so our viewers or listeners could act on this today, from maybe finding an angle or getting started writing a press release? Are there any tips around that? I know you mentioned doing your keyword research. Obviously, we're not condoning keyword- stuffing, like the old school bad SEO practice of let's sound like a robot just to get our keywords in there. Where should they be using their keywords? Anything like that that they can take away today to move in this direction? 

Yvonne: 18:32 Well, I think that just like you said, you need to know what you're writing a press release about and making sure it's an angle. One thing that I heard recently on a webinar with journalists was because there are less readers, they are all about a story. So if you can find a very compelling story angle to whatever you want to write about in your press release, then you have a higher probability of a journalist opening that press release or that media pitch and getting that earned media piece. As far as keywords, you always want to have a keyword in your headline. Whether that is a blog post headline or a press release headline, making sure that that keyword is included in there is important as well as a meta-description if that is available on the CMS that you use for that article or press release post. It depends on how you're actually managing that on your site. I would say just break the mold and be creative and think outside the box. You can promote a similar angle without sharing, I guess I should say this out loud. Don't share your press releases on social media. It's a completely different audience. But just because you shouldn't share your press release on social media doesn't mean that sharing that similar story on social media isn't a great idea. The story is the story. The angle is the angle. And that should be shared regardless of what communications tool you're using. 

Dustin: 20:19 Great. Thank you for joining us, Yvonne. This has been very informative. I know that like a lot of our generation, everyone working right now in marketing, is either from, it feels very segmented from that PR or fully ingrained in the digital and there's very little crossover. I think it's great to start using some of those perceived old school tactics in a new school way. 

Yvonne: 20:52 We can all get along, right? And we can all work towards one common goal. 

Michael: 21:00 I've got a hard-hitting, important question. Have you even had a sip of your drink yet? 

Yvonne: 21:06 I think I'm the only one that's been drinking. 

Dustin: 21:08 I think she's been talking a lot which is par for the course of the bond. 

Yvonne: 21:14 You're not going to ask me to chug this, are you? 

Michael: 21:15 This is a business podcast. 

Dustin: 21:19 We've got to talk about how we liked the drink. 

Michael: 21:21 The final segment of the podcast is how's the buzz? So we need a little bit of information about what you think of the local vodka. 

Yvonne: 21:28 Well, I love that it's a potato vodka because I'm gluten-free. That was a nice aspect for me. I'm also a huge vodka tonic fan, so this is in my wheelhouse, which is why those of you that were watching realize that I was taking several sips. 

Dustin: 21:49 I'm a fan too. I'm not normally a vodka drinker. I'm actually a gin guy when it comes to hard alcohol. But it's very smooth. I thought it was good. 

Michael: 22:01 I wish I could say this is the first time I've had Breckenridge, but I'm a fan of it. I've had it quite a bit, which just goes to show that it's pretty good. So I'm happy to have it. 

Dustin: 22:10 Great. Well, thank you all for tuning in. This was our second episode of Gettin' Buzz'd. We'll be back next week with another episode. Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel or to our podcast, and we'll see you next time. Cheers. 

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