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What is Public Relations in the 21st Century?

116 & West

The Fundamentals of Public Relations

When I was introduced to public relations it was imperative to learn the “the fundamentals” of public relations in order to be successful in the field. These fundamentals focused on tactics such as strong journalism instincts and learning to write effective press releases. Press releases were everything. While most agree press releases are certainly an aspect of public relations campaigns and learning to write well journalistically is equally as important, they are not everything.  Also, many people assume PR is interacting with the news media to generate stories or promotions, but it’s so much more than that.

Public Relations in the 21st Century

So what does public relations in the 21st-century look like? I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks and concluded the key term and philosophy of 21st-century public relations is innovation. We focus on innovation when it comes to public relations at 116 & West often because our marketing strategies are just that, innovative! We focus on combining and layering strategies using a variety of platforms.  We often use the term ‘integrated’ in our brainstorming sessions, client meetings, and media planning because more often than not, it’s a strategic combination of these layers that result in a successful marketing campaign. The idea of layering relevant strategies is truly the 116 & West approach and it’s no different when it comes to PR.  That’s what makes public relations work. It isn’t just a news media strategy; it involves client training, communication plans, and developing a wholesome public relations campaign within the context of a business marketing plan.

Marketing Tactics in Public Relations

Innovative public relations encompasses high-level 21st-century marketing tactics like using social media as a primary platform. The modern world is raising the bar on uniqueness and public relations integration into marketing plans. Modern campaigns are carefully layered with content strategy, unique placement, and encouraging the viewers to participate. To better illustrate the idea of 21st Century public relations I looked at some of the most memorable PR campaigns from 2014. The campaigns I chose outline this idea of innovative public relations using social media and creating user-generated momentum.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ll begin with one of the most popular social media campaigns of 2014 (or in history!) the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This is a great example of unique, out-the-box, social media-powered public relations. It is not your typical ‘PR’ campaign. Not-for-profits often face challenges of reaching a younger generation of donors and the importance of utilizing social media to reach this demographic was one of the leading contributions to the campaign’s success. The not-for-profit was able to veer away from the traditional concept of finding people who are passionate about a cause and asking them to donate and instead decided to make a challenge that inspired viewer participation leading to an outpouring of donations and a heightened awareness of ALS.

Several aspects of the campaign elevated its success from an average PR campaign. The campaign ultimately led to $70 million dollars of donations from new donors. The campaign demonstrated a new kind of public relations by finding a fun way to create awareness about a serious disease. The social media platform was bound to create momentum with the simple rules of nominating three of your friends. When one person participated, three more participated and nominated more people, and so on. With initial traction stemming from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, George W. Bush, Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt, and many more, this led to ordinary people participating and created a sense of belonging to something bigger. What I find most innovative about this campaign is that it was user-generated and spread like wildfire. It had a sense of humor but raised money for a worthy cause; I would guess more not-for-profits are looking to implement this type of social media PR in the future.

#LikeAGirl Campaign

Another interesting example of 21st-century public relations was the #LikeAGirl campaign powered by Always. Always started the campaign to address young girls going through puberty and the impact of phrases similar to “like a girl” has on their confidence. The campaign focuses on empowering young women to find their confidence and carry it through into adulthood and throughout their lives. Through a powerful series of videos, social media campaigns, a powerful interactive landing page, and partners such as Girls Scouts of America, UNESCO, Lean In and more, the Always campaign made a memorable splash in the nation.

This idea of 21st century PR is illustrated here with the participation from America. Women all over the nation have been tweeting their #LikeAGirl phrases and the campaign has resonated with the female demographic. This campaign outlines a similar idea of user-generated momentum through social media.

Idaho Department of Education

A third example supporting the theme of 21st-century public relations on a local level is the campaign 116 & West created for the Idaho Department of Education ‘The Common Core Standards”. DM set out to create engaging content targeted to mothers 18 to 44 with relevant topics that they’d be likely to share with each other. The campaign objectives were to educate parents and teachers on how these standards will improve the education system statewide and prepare Idaho’s children for higher education and their future careers.

The use of social media was among the campaign’s front-running strategies because it provided a platform to reach the relevant audience and encourage participation. In order to meet the marketing objectives, DM created a series of infographics and an infographic video that provided information in a creative and interactive way using social media. This campaign shows the success of a strong and stimulating social media presence and that it’s not always necessary to possess a giant budget to create effective and innovative public relations campaigns.

For the full case study, read more here.

While these are just a few of the many interesting campaigns that emerged from 2014, they introduce a modern form of public relations. 21st century PR consists of much more layered strategies than just press releases and straightforward media relations. It seems to be a strong combination of social media tactics, relevant digital platforms, and encouraging active participation from its viewers. My favorite element of these campaigns is the way they reach their audience and initiate participation. As we look to develop public relations campaigns for our clients and ourselves, we continue to integrate and layer these innovative and challenging strategies here as 116 & West.