Rising Power: Public Relations' Value in the Digital Age

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PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, delivered the keynote address at the 2011 Hispanicize Hispanic PR & Social Media Conference April 7, 2011, in Los Angeles. She addressed the rising value of public relations and marketing, particularly in the Hispanic-American market, in light of recent United States Census data showing more than 50 million Hispanic-Americans live in the U.S., with a combined annual buying power of more than $1 trillion.

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Rising Power: Public Relations' Value in the Digital Age

  1. 1. Rising Power: Public Relations Value in the Digital Age Rosanna M. Fiske, APR Chair and CEO, PRSA Delivered: April 7, 2011, in Los Angeles Keynote Address — Hispanicize Hispanic PR & Social Media ConferenceThank you, Manny. Buenas tardes … good afternoon. I am so happy to join you here!This is such an important moment in time for PRSA and to be here with you, that thisyear, I didn’t come alone. I want to recognize two of my PRSA national team memberswho are here with me today – Bill Murray, our President and COO, and MarisaVallbona, a member of our board of directors.We come together for this exciting conference — the second of what has alreadybecome an influential industry gathering — to discuss public relations and social mediain the U.S. Hispanic market.I come before you four months into my tenure as chair of the board of directors andCEO of the Public Relations Society of America, a 32,000-plus member organization,the largest in the world. This is a professional opportunity that is immensely enlighteningfor me, and one that I am privileged to pursue.I’m also a professor at Florida International University, and many of my former studentsare here today as professionals. Let’s see hands — where are you?After many years on the agency and corporate side, this is the best part of my life —mentoring the next generation of public relations and advertising professionals.Like many of you, I have seen the dramatic changes that have taken place in ourprofession over the past decade, and viewed more broadly, since I started in my firstcorporate position. In case you can’t hear the excitement in my voice, let me makesome points clear, right off the top:After all this time, I’m still incredibly passionate about our profession; where our industryis heading; how it helps businesses grow; how public relations serves the public good;and the role we play in protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthfulinformation that is essential to democratic societies.It’s a responsibility that I do not take lightly, both my role leading PRSA and my belief inpublic relations’ ability to do good for the world — for society and for the clients andorganizations we counsel.As you know, we’re in a time of significant global political upheaval, augmented by ourown domestic concerns. This is what my grandfather would refer to as an “arroz conmango.” 1
  2. 2. But more seriously, in preparing these remarks, I asked myself whether there weresomething in my own experience that may be helpful to others — to business people ingeneral, and in particular, public relations professionals. Were there some principles,perhaps, that can add perspective to what you and many of your colleagues have comehere to learn about?If you know me, then you know I am proud to be Hispanic. Most definitions do not defineme as a Latina, but because I have lived and worked within this environment my entireprofessional life, I clearly identify with the Hispanic/Latino culture.I’m not here solely to talk about what it means to be a Latina, the various nuances ofmarketing to this demographic and whether marketing to mi abuelo is the same asmarketing to su abuelo.What I am here to discuss with you today is a rising power in the global marketplace —the rising power of public relations.And while I won’t tell you how long I’ve worked in public relations … let’s just say thatBush 41 was in office at the time, gas most certainly didn’t cost $4 a gallon and MarkZuckerberg was, oh, only about 4 or 5 years old and the GoGo’s was the up-and-coming hot chic band … social media referred to the new era of watching music videoson television.But, today … today, it’s absolutely remarkable the power that social media has givenconsumers, businesses, community activists, future presidents … you name it. And no, Idon’t intend for this to turn into a “Social Media is Amazing!” speech. We’ve all heardthat, and there’s no point rehashing it.But think about what you do now and put that into perspective of what you did, say, fiveyears ago. 10 years ago. 20 years ago. Does anything remotely look the same now as itdid then?Perhaps. Then again, five years ago, Twitter was just getting off the ground.Ten years ago, most websites still looked like an Etch-A-Sketch, with lines and dotsseemingly going nowhere but claiming to connect us everywhere and to everyone.Twenty years ago … the commercial Internet barely existed; word processors were thename of the game – who here remembers Xywrite, WordPerfect and Multimate? Andour fax machines and pagers were nearly as ubiquitous as today’s iPhones.Remember the original cell phone that looked more like a concrete block with aprotruding black antenna? Try making that fit in your Gucci bag … not pretty.The truth is, we’ve gone from needing half a dozen tools to communicate — a wordprocessor, whiteout, an AP Stylebook, a fax machine, a landline phone, a pager, etc. —to just one: the smartphone. 2
  3. 3. Mobile technology, more so than anything else in the past 20 years, has transformedPR and marketing into thriving industries. What used to take 5 hours now takes as littleas 15 minutes. We can draft a release on our phones, edit and proof it, send it to ourvarious contacts, Tweet it and post it to Facebook in less time than it used to take to getour IBM selectric to erase the last typo.All of that is but one small sliver of the total hemisphere of public relations’ value andinfluence. In the U.S. alone, spending on public relations services now exceeds $4billion annually, and it is projected to jump 55 percent by 2013, to more than $8 billion.This, from a business that just a few years ago, some called irrelevant. How many ofyou heard the occasional “Public relations is stale; it’s outdated; it’s all about one-waypush communications, rather than actual engagement with the public.”Well, let’s just say it wasn’t even considered worthy of a quinceañera party. It wasadvertising’s ugly step sister.Dios mio, how times have changed!I relayed those figures I quoted a moment ago to a reporter at the Financial Times withwhomI had lunch recently in New York. He was very surprised at the robust growth inpublic relations calling it “palpable” — he’s used to holding-company CEOs boastingabout their latest bottom lines, or what barely exists of them now. He was so surprised,in fact, that he came back to the numbers 10 minutes later and asked me if this couldpossibly be true. It is.And as I told the Financial Times reporter, businesses and executives often don’t realizethey need strategic public relations until it’s too late . . . PRSA is out to change thatperception.Just a few weeks ago, eMarketer released a report that found that among the top-25principals in advertising, marketing and public relations agencies, PR professionals arethe most effective when it comes to leveraging social media. This is huge. For the firsttime, three inter-related disciplines have agreed that public relations is really the ownerof social media.I’d have to agree!Assessing Public Relations’ ValueThis begs the question: what exactly is public relations’ overall value? We can’t be allthings to all people. That’s a recipe for disaster. There already exist too many snake oilsalesmen and gurus, who are out to make a quick buck or two on an unassuming CMO,who happens to be overwhelmed with the dozens of new social networks, CMSplatforms, and analytics tools that come out each year … one replacing the other, onemaking the other obsolete.But communicators — specifically, public relations executives — are especiallyprepared for adjusting and adapting to change. We’re used to telling CEOs and uppermanagement those famous words from Beyonce … indeed the latest and greatest of 3
  4. 4. anything is likely going to be replaced by something else. You know, to the left, to theleft … If social media has taught us anything is that don’t you ever for one second get tothinking, you’re irreplaceable!This is the opportunity for public relations. Marketers are growing tired. “Where should Imarket my brand online?” seems to get more attention from overwhelmed marketersthan to whom should my brand reach and impact?But, in public relations, we stand for something greater. We reach beyond the lowestcommon denominator to ensure public relations’ value is not compromised by the swiftdealings of a few. After all, the next big thing will always be on the horizon. Anymarketer or PR professional worth his salt should not be selling his services to clientsbased solely on helping them tap into the next big thing. Public relations is aboutbuilding a reputation, through solid and credible relationships, over time.That brings us to the really big question all of us are faced with every day: What dotoday’s CEOs want and need most?If you were to ask the public, they would likely tell you CEOs need better reputations.It’s doubtful many would argue that sentiment.I read a recent post in The New York Times’ "You’re The Boss” blog that put the needfor improved CEO reputations into perspective. In it, the author relayed a story from aCEO with a school-age son, who came home one day and asked if his father would callhimself something other than a CEO. It seems that the boy’s classmates were givinghim a hard time about the fact that his father runs a company — as if it were somethingto be embarrassed by.Not exactly a ringing endorsement for modern executives.We’re at a precipitous moment for trust in American, not only trust in our institutions —government, health care, insurance — but in business. American capitalism — thedriving force behind what has helped make first- and second-generation immigrants, likeme, successful in this country in a relatively short period of time.As the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates, trust in American businesses, and byextension, the reputations of corporations and their leaders, is now at an all-time low, atjust 46 percent, or barely above last-place Russia. Yes, you heard right … Russia.Think about that for a moment: trust in the American business community — the veryclients you represent and the organizations you work for — is barely above the level ofthat in a country still struggling with the modern concept of free enterprise anddemocracy. That’s a somewhat disturbing thought.All of which leads me to believe we’re at a monumental moment for the public relationsindustry. 4
  5. 5. Despite the worst economic recession any of us have experienced, and hopefully willnever have to endure again, public relations is actually growing — rapidly.Certainly, no one can say public relations is merely an add-on or “nice to have” serviceanymore. It is a must-have … you know, the kind that you-better-have-it-or-you’re-going-to-regret-it type of service …Why do I say that? Well, aside from the fact that it’s kind of my job (I mean, I wouldn’tbe much of a CEO for PRSA if I said otherwise!), anecdotal evidence and data all backme up.Take, for example, the recent New York Times small-business blogger, restaurantowner Bruce Buschel.Have you heard of this guy? Take a look around you, and it’s a good bet that the personsitting on either side of you has, and he or she can tell you all about his viewpoints onthe value of public relations, or his belief in a lack thereof. Let’s put it this way: he thinkswe all suck. And that’s putting it kindly.Mr. Buschel recently went on a three-week tirade against public relations. At first, itseemed innocent enough. He wrote a post called “The Problem with Public Relations.”Not exactly original, but hey, the guy isn’t like you and me (clearly).It seems that Mr. Buschel has a beef — no pun intended — with a couple of New YorkCity agencies that he hired to help generate buzz — ugh, that awful word, buzz. Is therea translation for buzz in Spanish? “Buzzear?”Let’s forget I ever said that, OK? Great. Back to Mr. Buschel’s restaurant. He hired a PRfirm for the opening of his new restaurant in the Hamptons on Long Island. Everythinggoes well until the firm starts providing counsel, as any good PR agency or PRprofessional should. Apparently, Mr. Buschel doesn’t take too kindly to market researchand to counsel from the very professionals he hires to do just that.Fast forward two weeks. After hundreds of commenters patiently tried to explain to himthe very real, business value of public relations, Mr. Buschel still didn’t get it. He pensanother blog post, this time condescendingly breaking down some rather good pointsfrom one commenter, and showing that he clearly had no intention of ever trying tounderstand public relations’ true business value.But then he throws us all a 180. His last post on the subject, titled, “Arriving Late at theSocial Media Party,” shows Mr. Buschel walking us through how many professionals,some of whom may even be one of you in the audience today, patiently helped himunderstand the new realities of public relations and marketing in the digital age — thefact that that dreaded word, “buzz,” means very little in a world where consumersentiment can change hourly, if not instantly. 5
  6. 6. That means actually understanding what it is your customers want from your business,rather than what you think they want or, heaven forbid, what you want them to want, isone of the greatest modern marketing challenges facing businesses today.In essence, these professionals who commented on the blog, were working pro bono,offering Mr. Buschel and his thousands of New York Times readers, the best counseland perspective of public relations’ strategic business value one could ask for.Let me sum up what the hundreds of comments boiled down to:It’s no longer about you. It’s about them. It’s about what others want, desire and needfrom your business. And ranting and raving about how a PR firm that you hired doesn’tunderstand what it is that YOU want, but is trying to help you understand what THEYwant, isn’t going to get YOU anywhere.So what initially looked like another mass attack on the value of public relations, turnedinto a vast crowdsourced initiative of how public relations has stepped up to meetbusinesses modern communications challenges.And that brings us to an interesting debate that has heated up in recent months withinthe industry: redefining what public relations is. What is the definition of our work? Whatdo we do? And what value do we truly have?Do your abuelos understand it? Heck, does your mami or papi understand it?It’s a great question to ask, and one that many of my colleagues at PRSA have beenexploring for quite some time. If you look at PRSA’s definition of public relations, whatmany consider the industry’s de facto definition, it says:“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to eachother.”OK … that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly relevant in 2011.Or even in 1995. Perhaps that is because PRSA’s definition was established in 1982,and it hasn’t been updated since because we can’t find industry consensus on thedefinition. That’s right: what our industry uses to define its work is a concept that is now30 years old.Let me offer some perspective here. The last five years, let alone the past decade, havegiven rise to forms of communication that many of us never dreamed possible. Thus,the working definition of public relations has changed dramatically. What was onceconsidered a form of "push" communications has now clearly evolved into a moreprosperous and valuable two-way communication platform in which brands,organizations, governments, non-profits, NGOs, are able to communicate and engagedirectly with key audiences in a mutually beneficial manner.What this all means is that it’s likely time we explore how we can modernize, revise andupdate this definition to meet today’s modern communications challenges our clientsand employers face. 6
  7. 7. Many of my industry colleagues, some of you, perhaps, have thoughtfully debated forseveral weeks — months, maybe years? — what public relations truly means. What itmeans today, and more importantly, what it will need to mean tomorrow, five years fromnow and perhaps, 30 years down the road.However, just like protests dont resolve policy questions, blog posts and endless talkdont resolve what is at its heart a complicated issue: redefining the essence of what wedo. It is time to move past endless talk and start laying the groundwork for progress.I keep coming back to this theme of meeting today’s modern business challengesbecause that is precisely what public relations professionals, marketing professionals,social media folks — you name it — must be doing in order to sustain our value to thebusiness community and continue to develop innovative methods of helping businessesprosper.It’s that simple … well, if only it really were.Let’s bring it back to the Hispanic market. That’s why we’re all here, right? To learnmore about how we can tap into this immensely rich, innovative and hungry market of50-million-plus.All of the talk over the past year, from blog posts, tweet chats to conferences like thishas focused on just how lucrative the Hispanic market will be once the dust settles fromthe 2010 Census.Will mainstream marketers finally wake up to the reality that there is an immense marketin America that is waiting, actually, make that begging, to be leading?They better. Because as my good friend Glenn Llopis is fond of saying, “Hispanics arethe mainstream in America.”Are we the same now as we were, say, 20 years ago, when Hispanic marketing leapedfrom novel concept to the market de jour? Not even close.I thought Hernan Lopez, president of Fox International Channels, said it best when hewrote recently in Advertising Age, that “This is not your abuelas Latino community oftwo decades ago. A new generation has emerged, with a new Latino DNA, andmarketers who fail to decode it will struggle to survive.”Many of those 50 million, and I count myself among them, are first- second-, third- oreven fourth-generation immigrants. They come from families deeply rooted in theirnative culture. But somewhere along the way, Hispanics in America have changed. Wehave grown so quickly, and have been so eager to fit in with American business, that inmany ways we’ve lost a part of our identity.Again, I have to give all the credit to Glenn Llopis of the Center for Hispanic Leadershipfor really pushing this idea. Glenn and I became fast friends over this ideology. 7
  8. 8. We need to reclaim our identity, and stand firm behind it.As communicators, this presents an incredible challenge. And yet, it’s also a powerfulopportunity.We, and by we, I’m talking about marketing and public relationsprofessionals … we must resolve to not resort to the lowest common denominator or theeasy way out in our marketing to Hispanics.It would be incredibly easy for us to merely allow Hispanic marketing andcommunications to stand still in time; to take the lowest common denominator. Almostas though we were stuck in 1990.We must avoid this temptation. We must aspire to something greater; an earnest effortto continue innovating Hispanic marketing and public relations, to continue talking withHispanics as though we are the new mainstream in America. Because we are.And to tempt fate with a market as big as 50 million Americans and $1 trillion in annualspending power would be bad karma or mala suerte. Not to mention it’s just badbusiness.You still have marketing that largely plays to stereotypical themes. That’s not to say allHispanic marketing is like this, but I know from growing up as a global Hispanic, whomoved to America to attend high school, the Hispanic marketing that came from bigAmerican corporations in the 80s wasn’t exactly what you would call enlightening.And it wasn’t anything close to the type of iconic marketing that mainstream Americanaudiences saw in English-language media.Things started to turn around in the mid-1990s. An upsurge of agencies focusing onHispanics, combined with powerhouse TV networks Univision and Telemundo cominginto their own, helped communicators realize that simply dubbing over Americancommercials with lousy Spanish wasn’t going to cut it anymore.Maybe we shouldn’t have expected anything more. After all, Hispanics were not themainstream demographic in America 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, we were still afast-rising segment, sure, but we were still lurking somewhere in the background. Everybusiness knew it needed to get up-to-speed with the power of Hispanic marketing, butfew were ready to jump all the way in pending conclusive data that clearly showed, “yes,this demographic is here to stay!”It is far more powerful than we ever imagined.Well, I’m here to tell you, that data has come. By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the 2010Census data. And we all know the numbers. Add to that that advertising spending onHispanic media is up 164 percent since 2001 to $3.88 billion. There are hundreds ofSpanish-language TV and radio stations across the U.S. Thousands of publications andblogs dedicated to Hispanic audiences. 8
  9. 9. You need a little more proof? The beloved telenovela, “La Reina del Sur” — “Queen ofthe South” — is routinely beating English-language networks’ TV shows, averagingmillions of viewers per night in 3 of the top 10 DMAs in the country. Imagine that: ashow entirely in Spanish that airs primarily in America is beating English-languageshows at their own game of attracting eyeballs, ad dollars and the coveted 18-to-34-year-old audience.Put into greater perspective, the U.S. Hispanic population is now greater than all ofCanada’s. And, we would be the fifth largest country in Europe.Going back to my point earlier about not resorting to the lowest common denominator inour marketing to Hispanics, the easy thing to do would be to look at these numbers andthink, “Gee, we should just keep doing what we’ve always been doing because it’sworked.”But where would the fun be in that? And more importantly, what message would we besending America’s newest mainstream demographic by essentially telling Hispanics thatthe status quo is good enough for us?Katy Perry wouldn’t like it. She challenges to ignite the light, to be a firework, to showwhat we’re worth, to make them go “aw, aw, aw” as we shoot across the “sky, sky, sky.”Maybe that’s not going to work. But then again we have social media.Social Medias Presence — and Power — in the Hispanic CommunityDespite the prevalence of white, non-Hispanic Caucasians on social media, a greatmigration is currently taking place within diverse cultures.Whereas even 2 to 3 years ago, many non-white cultures preferred more traditionalforms of marketing and communications, culturally-diverse demographics represent oneof the fastest growing segments of social media.A 2010 PRSA survey found that 36 percent of English-preferring Hispanics regularlyused social networks.All of which points to a marketplace for PR and marketing professionals that looksnothing like it did five years ago.Marketing to diverse cultures, whether Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, etc., is a remarkably complex, and yet oddly simple, concept.At the end of the day, everyone has similar human instincts to connect with each other;to relate to others’ experiences; to share in the excitement, the sorrow, the joy and thefear of life.That transcends cultures, and it is at the heart of what makes public relationssuccessful: reaching a variety of diverse audiences in ways that impact their lives and 9
  10. 10. help them to connect with something meaningful and authentic to them and to theirculture.At the same time, reality tells us that there are vast cultural differences we must keep inmind when communicating with different cultures — whether via a press release, a TVinterview or on Twitter.As a Latina, I can tell you that the way I communicate with my Latina followers onTwitter is vastly different to how I would communicate with a culture that is morereserved -- or less affectionate. That’s all part of understanding, and more importantly,respecting, cultural differences in how we communicate.Our communications need to stand for something more. We need to be the generationof Hispanic communicators that sets the tone for the level of creativity and innovationthat will define diverse marketing for generations to come. We need to be the nextgeneration of Shakiras.There is a responsibility among successful Hispanic business leaders to speak onbehalf of our colleagues and really say we need to do something to develop moreleaders.Because if we don’t, where are all of these 50 million people, and the millions of othersthey influence, going to look for leadership and insight? Where will the next generationof young professional Hispanic-Americans look to for guidance?And to clearly demonstrate that, we need to market it and we need to communicate it.We must give hope to other professionals and aspiring young Hispanics who somedaywish to become business leaders because we are the mainstream of today andtomorrow.We are the next generation of American leadership.!En buena hora! Muchas gracias. ### 10

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