There was a time when, during a crisis, public relations tactics always went through a strict approval process. If a crisis struck, the PR staff of the organization would come up with ways to take on the issue at hand, much the way they would now.
However, before deploying anything, the “powers that be” would have to approve. This ensured the right things were said and done, and in the event things didn’t turn out as planned, at least the management couldn’t place all of the blame on their PR staff.
I’ve noticed that lately, however, those of us in PR are being expected to and need to respond to crisis situations faster than ever before, if not instantaneously.
This can be hard if there are strict approval processes in place. That’s why many businesses have taken a different approach, and are now more likely than ever to place full trust in their PR staff to make the right decisions when handling crisis situations. Or approval processes are at least being streamlined to speed things up.
This is great news for the PR practitioner. As naturally creative people, we tend to work best when we are free to make our own choices, even when it’s as part of a team. When we are held down by those above us, our abilities can be suppressed.
This means that crises can potentially be diverted quicker and the information provided for the target audience(s) can come across with greater transparency. It also, however, increases the likelihood of creating a messy situation.
For example, when all it takes is 20 seconds and 140 characters to send a message to the entire world, things must not be said off the cuff. The world wants an instantaneous response from us, but we must find balance with fast but well thought out responses to crises and just the right amount of openness and transparency.
So, what does all of this mean to the recent or soon-to-be graduate who is in communications? For starters, you need to be well acquainted with web-based communication tools (aka social media), such as Twitter, Digg, Facebook, etc. Moving forward, you will be asked less often to write a traditional press release, and expected more often to get the word out (in promotion, preventative and crisis communications) using the tools available online.
It also may mean a new niche in traditional communications. Though it would seem more and more organizations are steering their focus toward social media, traditional media will always be a valuable way of getting messages to the world.
Therefore, there will always be demand for communicators with traditional media knowledge. Because of the huge differences between the vehicles used in social versus traditional media and the ways we use those vehicles, there will be demand for people trained specifically in traditional media. However, we familiarize ourselves with both new and old, and always aim to be well-rounded communicators.