Sandra Ericson|Oct 14, 2014

It’s that time again when PR professionals from all 50 states and beyond descend upon an unsuspecting conference center, creating Apple Store-style lines for lattes and hoarding charging outlets like they’re spitting out gold. That’s right – the PRSA International Conference in Washington D.C.!

It’s my fourth year reporting from the action, and my goal is to spot the hidden themes – the underlining messages woven between the keynote speakers and smaller panel sessions that tell us about the future of PR.

Those with big data still on the brain will say I should provide research-backed analysis of social media keywords to produce these themes. Alas, my measurement philosophy this year is a back-to-basics approach. And as Steve Turnbo, winner of this year’s Paul M. Lund Public Service Award, so elegantly reminded us today with a quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So I’m going to tell you how I feel about the underlying trend coming out of PRSA Conference: It’s the changing news cycle.

Old news, right? Yes, we know people don’t read print newspapers anymore; that you should be contacting reporters on Twitter instead of email; that videos do better online as opposed to long articles; and that media consumers have been getting their information differently for some time now.

But the complete reversal of the news cycle has never been more evident – and everyone is talking about it.

Take, for example, how PR pros might have handled a piece of news in the past. We find a newsworthy gem in one of our organization’s or client’s employees, CSR efforts or spokespeople. We write a killer pitch for media and get national coverage. Then we go back to our organizations or clients and scurry to amplify that coverage on owned channels, through social and beyond. We might send it to other local outlets and bloggers, telling them the national news covered it and so should they. That’s still a good approach and we should continue to do it.

But the news cycle has changed, and new opportunities and misses abound. According to Adele Cehrs, now the news begins on social media, then is picked up by bloggers, then local news and finally national news.

So, if your news is tied to a timely event and you wait to insert your organization or client into the cycle once it hits the national news, you’re already on the downward slope. It’s already almost too late.

There’s something about a campaign being “viral” that makes it newsworthy. Social activity leading the news was certainly showcased in the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s also why The Today Show recently celebrated the first anniversary of its differentiating Orange Room.

This notion of online buzz leading the news cycle was evident in many examples presented throughout the conference. Amy Robach of Good Morning America shared the #ImEnough Campaign from female rock group The Mrs., which used magic mirrors in malls to boost the confidence of unsuspecting women with personalized compliments. What Robach didn’t share was that the campaign was actually launched at BlogHer14, but didn’t make it to GMA until it had 3 million views and a ton of online buzz.

Media guru Michael Smart schooled us about BYU’s creative pitch to draw attention to alumnus and Olympic luger Kate Hansen. Despite the droves of Olympic media coverage, the athlete’s cute pre-event dance warm up to Beyonce was actually pitched directly to Beyonce’s publicist. After the pop diva’s tweet went viral, only then did media follow suit.

So, how can we insert our organizations or clients into these conversations at just the right time to ride the wave home? Well, you need to have your eyes open and you need to be looking in the right place.

During her presentation on The Rise of Predictive Scanning, Cehrs suggested that we rethink who is doing the critical monitoring of blog and online activity related to our organization’s or client’s core topics. While this task is often delegated to junior employees, she suggested a greater emphasis and value be placed on the listening that can predict these trends.

She opined that CVS’ groundbreaking decision to take a $2 billion hit by eliminating tobacco products from its stores was likely based on predictive scanning. The trends that led to that critical decision, now critically acclaimed from President Obama on down, may have been missed if the right people had not been scanning the landscape for that perfect timing.

Just imagine if every one of your pitches began with “10 million people can’t be wrong.”


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