I write this from the floor of Ballroom D at the Austin Convention Center, on my first trip to the South By Southwest Interactive conference (SXSWi), a five-day tech fest before the more well-known music festival. In my first three days, I’ve found SXSWi to be engaging, invigorating and exhausting (in a good way).
It’s also been a lot like Sesame Street. SXSWi 2010 was brought to you by “The Letter C.”
See, I keep hearing the same words over and over again, no matter the session; among them, content, context, community and curate. These words all seem to be “new” here. And it keeps occurring to me that none of these words or what they represent are in any way “new” to the practice of public relations. Here’s why:
Content: By far the most-used word at SXSWi is content. From “content is king,” to “marketing is now about content,” or the answer to “What do you do?” being “I’m a content producer,” it’s everywhere. All of this talk about content being new just made me want to stand up on my chair and scream. Instead, I just tweeted. Content is not new to all marketing disciplines. Producing quality content that cuts through the clutter is what good PR people do. It’s what we’ve been doing for years. What is new is the channel. That brings me to the second “C.”
Context: Context is what puts the content into the proper perspective. In PR, we have to be keenly aware of context in everything we do – from managing crises, to launching products, to developing speeches. For without the proper context, our clients’ messages won’t be heard, or worse, will be taken “out of context” with disastrous results. So we learn early on to take circumstances into consideration: time of day or year, other stories in the news cycle, what competitors are or aren’t doing, even the right event venue. We need good content, and we need to present it in the right context, to – guess what? – reach and engage our clients’ publics. This brings me to my third “C”: community.
Community: Social media has brought extreme changes to the way we create, engage and communicate with what we used to refer to as “publics” or “audiences.” Those words imply one-way communication, and those days are gone. In PR, unlike advertising or digital marketing, one-way communication is not the biggest part of what we do. Enabling and participating in dialogue happens offline as a mainstay of PR through speaking engagements, community meetings, task forces and much more. Now the task at hand is jumping into (or not) the online dialogue, being responsive to and transparent about your interactions as a brand or as an individual. And figuring out what happens to all of those exchanges leads me to the fourth “C”: curate.
Curate: I’ve included curate because the presentation in which it was most used – by media expert Jeff Jarvis – really got me thinking about the massive impact of media fragmentation on the way we do our jobs. I have been so busy keeping up with the new world order of less traditional and more social media that I completely reflected on the nuts and bolts of it all. Mr. Jarvis sees curation of information something the media business needs to do to survive. In PR, we do curate our clients’ news and information, such as merchandising media coverage across platforms.
But the quote that Mr. Jarvis used that struck a chord was (paraphrased here), “For every one traditional media outlet, there will soon be 100.” He’s referring to the massive fragmentation we’re seeing as newspapers fold, replaced by hyper-local Web sites and influential niche bloggers. When we take on a new client, one of our first tasks is to build a media list that allows us to reach the right reporters and editors. But imagine now that for every one outlet you used to target, there are now 100 or more possible blogs, wikis, forums, social networks, or even Twitter users who might be a better target for your client’s message. Imagine the skill and strategic media targeting skills that are needed to master that challenge. That’s a challenge for PR, and an even bigger challenge for interactive marketers and advertisers.
The “C” words didn’t stop with these four, but that’s the end of this episode. At another time I’ll touch on crowd-sourcing and collaboration, the next two on the list. All of this talk of Sesame Street has me craving cookies.