The Hybrid Professional

I’m leaving for Washington next week to speak at the Vocus User’s Conference.  My topic is “PR Past to Social Media Power.”  Looking back, as I traveled down my own PR 2.0 path, I heard many people say that PR was dead. I believe PR is very much alive.  We’re changing, growing and experiencing an awakening or a rebirth in our industry. Despite the stereotypes about our work being PR spin and hype, if it wasn’t for a strong PR past, which gives us a solid foundation in strategic communications and relationship building with the public, there would be no opportunity for “social media power” to propel us forward today. From our ability to plan and execute strategic communications to our measurement practices and accountability, PR has a gained big stake in social media.  Notice, I didn’t say we own it, because we all know that no one can own social media.

My presentation will delve into the role PR will play in social media and identify the hybrid PR professional; the individual who exhibits social media power.  I’ll touch upon the communications professional who understands and practices strategic PR, who demonstrates the necessary hybrid characteristics and the PR person who assumes new roles and responsibilities willingly, as social media becomes a greater part of brand communication.  The hybrid is not a new concept but carries a few different meanings.

For me, the hybrid professional is rooted or educated in traditional PR (for example, skilled in traditional media) and trained in social media.  It’s still our jobs to connect with the media no matter where they report their stories, print, broadcast, online or on their blogs.  We’re not abandoning our media relations work in magazines, trade journals, TV and radio.  As long as our consumers are there reading or viewing, brands need to be there too.  However, we are exploring and building communities in new territories to connect with media turned bloggers and new influencers, as well as our customers directly. Whether it’s Facebook or foursquare, we need to know the rules of engagement with our stakeholders in these web communities.

The hybrid PR professional is also the strategic communicator that must have a seat at the strategy table.  This individual works closely with other marketing disciplines including the digital creative group, the brand team and marketing/advertising.  I remember attending a conference a year ago when a very smart educator questioned me about why I thought PR should be more integrated with other marketing disciplines.  She told me that PR is in a class by itself.  Yes, it is and we will always stand out as strategic communicators and reputation managers.  We are the professionals who know how to build relationship with various publics, who change public opinion and who know how to move markets.  But, PR should never be in a silo.  It must interact and provide guidance for all types of communication across a number of channels. Being a hybrid and having a strong understanding of the other areas of marketing and web, strengthens our roles; it doesn’t dilute what we do.

Many years ago I was told that PR people have to know what keeps the CEO up at night.  It’s clear to me that social media and how it changes a business can easily keep an executive’s eyes wide open.  Social media communication is human and transparent and when it’s in the hands of the new C-Suite (the consumer suite) a company’s reputation could be at stake.  We need to be tapped into the social realm and know how the information we retrieve, as a result of social media, will move across our organizations from our marketing departments all the way to customer service, sales, product development, HR, etc.  I think we’ve always been connected to other groups and the strategies and tactics that we’ve used in the past have helped to link us to these areas. But, social media communication and our ability to listen more closely offer us a greater opportunity to be even more tied to the brand’s business and functions across the organization. We’re able to reach higher-level goals and to do our jobs with more accountability.

I’m excited to discuss how the PR past has led to social media power and that our education and skills as communicators and relationship builders make us prime candidates to lead and grow in social media.  How do you feel about the hybrid professional and do you see how a strong PR past can propel PR forward?