In the age of the selfie, it's easier to promote yourself than ever before, right?

Not exactly.

Anyone can draw attention to themselves these days, but that's a far cry from creating the kind of buzz that builds businesses. Creating the right kind of association with your brand and getting the word out about it requires a lot more than tweeting out blog posts. Despite all the chatter about the death of traditional media, we can still learn a lot from the people who mastered the art of publicity over the last hundred years--PR agents.

Regardless of the medium, the best PR agents have a knack for distinguishing between the right kind of publicity and the kind that makes you feel good without delivering any real business benefit. Richard Laermer certainly falls into that category. The founder of RLM Public Relations, he's a bestselling author of books like Punk Marketing and Full Frontal PR, the former head of PR for Columbia Business School, and the one-time host of "Taking Care of Business," which aired on TLC.

Figuring out how to get the right kind of publicity may be the signature factor in effectively marketing yourself in our digital-obsessed age. That's why I brought in a true PR legend to teach you how to do it.

PR is one of those terms that is often hard to pin down. How would you define it?

The way to your public. Using all means (third parties) to get your message out. Usually that means working with traditional media of all kinds, social media and often in person appearances, both in public and in private.

What role does PR have to play when everyone seems to be promoting themselves constantly?

Branding one's self is not the same as PR. People talk a lot of BS when they want to be seen as something. It's so much ego. True PR doesn't spin a person in a direction--it just tells an awesome (or at least somewhat interesting) story. People who promote themselves are usually terrible at promoting their product. It can't be all about you, there has to be substance and not just so-called style. Personally, I think personal branding has screwed up the PR industry because a lot of new folks are in it because they think it's all fun parties and talking smack.

What is the state of PR in the digital era?

I want PR to be an important facet of marketing. I want it to take itself seriously. I don't want it to be all about begging people to put a client in a story. It's hard work getting the placements out and yet so many PR firms just talk a blue streak about what they're doing all day long. It's true digital has helped firms like RLMpr, because it's now so easy to tweet a reporter or discover that a certain producer has a cooking show on YouTube. The connections are sweeter. But I think PR needs to be categorized differently now. We're now the bringers of information.

What can PR accomplish that other forms of marketing available to businesses cannot?

Get the word out as a third party arbiter. People hate ads and they hate hype. They want to know when someone says something interesting about a thing or a person. The other forms of marketing are being used, sadly, as though people are idiots.

What does the future of PR look like?

I know what a lot of PR people want the future to be: a bigger place at the table with C-level types. Problem is, if you get that place, you can't just sit there. You have to say something. And you need to be able to prove your worth. I love the idea of advertising and PR working closer together to create something of value; I believe a CMO or a CEO would appreciate seeing that. Future PR will have to be less siloed.

Which is why I also see the future of PR as a lot more content embedded into places where once upon a time reporters or producers did that work. That means fantastic writing (and incumbent communication skills) are going to be paramount. Without that skill--which can be learned--PR folks will be out of jobs.

But brass tacks: The future of PR as a good place to work, for sure. I do think the new economy, which is getting better every single darn day, will push out all the frauds and keep good PR alive and well. I also believe in my head that good communicators will make the PR community a better place to work. As far as what it's going to do for marketing, well, there is one problem: the gigantic number of places where info is being put out there. It just keeps growing. Good PR people, the ones who can sort out the wheat from the chaff, who know when something is babble and another is really reporting, are going to be powerful in major companies and with major players in the future. With that, I wish future PR well.

Published on: Aug 18, 2014
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