Call me biased if you want, but I am convinced that public relations professionals are under more pressure than those in other professions to keep up with news and the national zeitgeist. There is a not-so-subtle expectation that we should be informed on current events (in every category); be able to name the top ten books on the New York Times Best Sellers list; talk about the day’s (or hour’s) media trends; and translate for our clients how popular culture will impact them. Knowing the mechanics of public relations is foundational, but without a persistent sensitivity to the diversity and complexity of the media environment, losing track of trends that impact our clients is a foregone conclusion.
Perhaps the preceding explains why public relations is really an art. A single edition of a newspaper can discuss a lawsuit filed against your client; cover a news story that another client can provide comment on and benefit from; announce changes to the structure of the newspaper that influences how you will interact with reporters; and feature a new social media tool that you somehow missed. And that’s not even including the broader media landscape: cable news; what’s trending on Twitter; changes to Facebook; topics in periodicals; books…you get the picture. It can be exhausting to try and keep up.
Google provides an instructive analogy for the overwhelming task of organizing what we consume. The brilliance of Google as a search engine is not its ability to search and provide information, but its capacity to discern what you are looking for and deliver it in an orderly fashion. As expectations of PR professionals grow – and I think they will – it will become more important to become a strategic consumer of information. Like Google, we have to decide how to deliver information – to ourselves.
While every PR professional’s filter will be different depending on their client list and personal interests, I have found the following three ideas personally helpful in maximizing my time and energy.
First, don’t let the daily pressure to devour the newspaper or your Twitter feed get in the way of reading a useful book. The subject depth that a book provides is hard to replicate in any other medium. I am always on the lookout for books that overlap my personal interests and professional development. One book that fits this category (it’s on my “to read” list) is the new book Googled, about Google’s global ambitions. Check it out here. Mao II by Don Delillo is another book that bridges the professional and entertaining. It explores mass media and terrorism.
Second, maximize your down time. I am an avid NPR listener because it allows me to catch up on major news stories while driving to work. By the time I pick up the newspaper at the office, I already know what is making the news and what stories are of special importance to me and my clients.
Third, subscribe to a few RSS feeds that are especially relevant to your clients. Purge subscriptions you do not read and regularly assess others that might be useful to add. After subscribing to an RSS feed, make a conscious effort to read it and feel out how useful it is. If it gives you the information you want, keep it.
Every PR practitioner has different information needs and they vary in complexity. However, the major obstacle to filtering information for consumption is simply taking the time to think through what information you need. If you make the effort to do that, it can save a lot of time and give you a real edge.