DF – How did you get into PR?
MW – I had a circuitous route into PR. I started as a standup comedy MC and first learned about PR from Mark Breslin, Yuk Yuk’s founder and CEO. He was always a believer in making news as opposed to buying ads. He’s also got amazing mind for stories. Working with him, I learned how to create stories and media hooks, write releases, approach reporters, monitor coverage (read the papers voraciously). That was my first taste. From there, I did a lot of different things including ad copywriting, film and books PR, writing two books of fiction, freelance journalism, producing films, writing for TV and, for the last 15 years working on the agency side. And I have to say I really love what I do.
DF – What is involved in your role on a daily basis?
MW – Being an agency owner/president, I’m not as hands on in client work as I used to be. I think my day is divided into four components: building and managing the business; helping create communications strategies for clients; working with my team listening to their ideas, reviewing materials and plans; and learning about and practicing social media.
DF – What are the biggest changes to the PR industry in 2009?
MW – I think the biggest change the industry is facing is the ever-shifting media landscape. Couple that with the recession and you have a lot of uncertainty out there. And while it does make my stomach churn (mostly the economic part), I’m very excited, too. Anytime there are cataclysmic changes, it challenges us to see things from a fresh perspective. To examine and consider new ideas. To alter and adjust the way we practice. I think with social media there are some amazing opportunities for our industry. But they are not going to happen overnight.
DF – What are some of the challenges you see the PR industry facing today/tomorrow?
MW – I think I covered some of this in the previous question. For me, one of the biggest challenges is how we, as an industry, are going to evolve beyond media relations. And, as we begin to embrace social media, how can we demonstrate a measurable ROI for our clients beyond media clips; move from outputs to outcomes. Stepping back, I guess we should ask if we’re equipped to take a leadership role in social media or will we lose that to some of the other marketing disciplines? I feel we can especially since the relationship aspect of PR gives us a natural understanding of community building. Another challenge has to do with ethics. The industry has been tarnished by some practitioners and we need to do a better job of building awareness for our believe in transparent, ethical communications.
DF – I’ve run into you at a number of events over the last year especially events focused on social media, what impact has this social media had on Palette PR?
MW – That’s funny. I’ve run into you, too… I’m about to get on a soap box here, but, as I’ve already mentioned, I believe social media is extremely important to the PR industry and will hopefully re-energize it (it’s done that for me). I have spent the last three or more years trying to get up to speed on social media practices and just when I think I’m close there’s something new to learn or try (my head has not stopped spinning). I’m actually teaching a 14 week course on social media in the PR certificate program at McMaster University in the fall.
But beyond the cool apps and shiny, pretty things, we need to step back, apply our knowledge and experience and figure out how the new tools fit into a strategic communication plan. That way, we’ll be able to offer clients sound and useful advice that will help them drive their businesses forward. Social media isn’t the answer to every question, but it is important for the PR industry to learn, understand and embrace it. At Palette, we’re presenting more social media ideas to our clients integrated into our PR plans. Some are more interested in experimenting, while others aren’t ready yet. In many cases, we’re positioning it as a test and learn and that seems to be easier to grasp.
DF – What impact are you seeing the current economic climate having on the public relations industry?
MW – I think that PR is subject to the forces all businesses are experiencing. And I know the economic climate has caused a lot of us to tighten our belts and become leaner and a bit more cautious. However, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps the industry was getting a bit too complacent and it takes a jolt like we’re experiencing for us to reexamine the nature of our practice and to look toward the future. And from my perspective, there is, as I said, a lot of potential in social media. Now is a good opportunity to make a solid business case for our clients as to how social media, combined with more traditional PR practices, can help them achieve their goals.
DF – Newspapers and other tradition media have been going through a major shift with many downsizing and lay off staff, what impact does this have on the public relations industry?
MW – I think the downsizing we’re seeing in traditional media is having a huge impact to PR. There’s such a close, symbiotic relationship between PR and media that we’d be foolish to think we’re immune from the pain. In fact, everytime I read about a media layoff I empathize and feel that’s our layoff, too. I talked to a journalist recently who used to do 1200 word features on a regular basis. Those have been cut to 800 or even 400 word articles. That means the reporter is making less money and covering fewer products, for example. There’s a direct case where both media and PR are feeling an impact. I hope that our industry can help and support our journalistic friends as we experience and emerge from this shift together.