07/11/2013 11:04 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT

PR? What's That Again?

Confusion about the role of a PR professional is nothing new. Some wonder how exactly we help our clients communicate and what it really takes to secure media coverage.

Recently, I was asked to provide a PR 101 workshop to SFU communications students. An assignment that would have been easy five years ago is now more challenging, as our role has greatly evolved.

Where does the PR professional fit into a marketing mix that now includes heavy online and social media components. How do they adapt to a landscape where coverage options have decreased due to shrinking newsrooms? How do we help our clients communicate through the clutter of information overload?

As PR pros, our objectives have not changed. We work to generate profile for clients, connect them with target audiences and help them develop the content to tell their stories and engage in positive dialogue with the public.

The tools, strategies and skill sets for the job have changed. Enter the hybrid PR professional. While identifying news stories, writing media materials and media relations are still important skills, the 2013 edition of the PR pro also needs to have a working knowledge of social media and other online platforms, along with the ability to create content that resonates with the online community.

While promoting a healthy and trendy beverage recently, our team generated earned media coverage but we also focused on getting the product into the hands of bloggers and Vancouverites with social media influence. Product was delivered with hand written notes with twitter handles and hashtags included which resulted in tweets, blog posts, instagram product photos and overall buzz around the brand.

In an increasingly diverse city, the contemporary PR pro also needs to consider languages and culture. If almost half of Vancouver speaks Mandarin or Cantonese, it's both ignorant and ineffective to ignore this audience. Working with team members who have language skills and can help you reach a diverse group of media and bloggers is key.

We were tasked with promoting a metro community this spring and along with a variety of English language outreach, we made sure to identify key Chinese speaking bloggers with personalized translated notes. We also worked to spread the word on Chinese social media, including Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to twitter.

Here are highlights of the PR 101 tips I shared with students:

• Bring listening back to the centre of PR, versus the old school marketing mantra of pushing out messages. Online communities expect a two-way dialogue.

• We are living in a visual world. In a time of data overload, using photo and video to help tell your story will draw more eyeballs to your content.

• Personalize your pitches. With fewer media in newsrooms and well-read bloggers getting hundreds of pitches weekly, its' more important than ever to tailor your pitches carefully.

• Writing and storytelling are still important skills you need to help clients create rich content for guest columns, blog posts and social media.

• Consume news daily. Traditional media such as radio, TV and print are working to adapt to a digital and mobile world and their online reach is increasingly significant.

• Relationships are still #1. Cultivate your media and blogger contacts carefully.

And above all, don't be boring. Share only valuable and interesting information with your media and blogger contacts, and create rich and engaging content for your online platforms. The new hybrid PR professional must be more interesting, more timely and faster than ever before to stay ahead of the ever-changing mobile media world.