When I started out in public relations, I wasn’t the digital guy. In fact, I took a much more traditional route. In a way, I grew up digital. I started working with some tech clients who wanted the next big thing in digital outreach — email blasts, websites and getting clients on Digg (remember when that was important?). Then, I made the move to a social media company.
My digital skills grew alongside the developing technology. It was great to see a new medium unfold and to see talented people work to make connections online like never before. I was working in a space where we connected with journalists and companies via Twitter and Skype — not press releases and phone calls.
Lately I’ve noticed a shift. Entry level associates are expected to know digital, while many older executives tend to be well-versed in more traditional PR. There’s a gap in middle management. At universities, it’s normal for students to pick a track — traditional or digital — and become an expert in one or the other. The two aspects of media relations are no longer merged.
At Spectrum, we take a different approach. It’s true we have our traditional people and we have our digital team, but everyone is expected to know a little of both. My digital skills would fall flat without a base understanding of marketing and public relations. Those on the traditional side need to be familiar with digital strategies as well.
And let’s be clear, digital does not just mean social media. I’ve run into a lot of people who call themselves digital strategists but only really know social media. Yes, it’s important to have a solid grasp on social media and understand its professional value, but that’s just one facet of digital PR. Digital strategists need to have a broader command of skills like coding HTML or PHP, editing video and setting up a server.
Having a solid understanding of both digital and traditional strategies will make you a true asset to your clients. Digital practitioners are only as good as their base understanding of traditional PR and vice versa. You can choose one track, but you can’t ignore the other. Ultimately, it is the client who decides how and what their PR practitioners should be.
Do you have an opinion? Do you think the PR folks should be specialists or have a general understanding of all communications tools?