As a direct marketing channel, public relations remains key to distributing company news about product launches, new services and other company initiatives. But PR isn't outside the influence of new digital channels, in particular social media.
Xerox Corp., for example, recently decided to use social media alone—no PR release involved—to distribute information about a rebranding move.
“Today, every conversation in marketing takes place within the social element,” said Xerox CMO Christa Carone. “Of course there are other tools in the PR tool kit, but social is the predominant one right now.”
Xerox's news entailed its acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, whose brand Xerox decided to put an end to and instead offer a Xerox-branded product. It's not an unusual move for large companies, but one that requires sensitivity to many publics, including investors and current customers.
“The ACS brand wasn't extremely well-known, but we knew that it had an important customer constituent that needed to know we were making this change,” Carone said. She said her team prepared a traditional news release about the elimination of the ACS brand but had some questions about it.
“We stared at this news release and it didn't do much for us,” Carone said. “We asked ourselves, "What are we were trying to achieve?' There was little context, and it wasn't especially newsworthy.”
As a result, Xerox decided to publicize the phase-out of the ACS brand via a blog posting.
The issue of news release distribution is changing, said Jillian Tobias, senior account exec at PR company Boardroom Communications.
“In certain industries, I actually have Twitter lists to tweet about news,” Tobias said. “Social media also has been the most important tool for me when understanding national trends.”
Tobias said the traditional news release, optimized for search, still has a place in the marketing mix, but it depends on the client.
“If you're Xerox, it may be effective. But for smaller companies, even if they have 10,000 followers, you may not be hitting the right markets with social announcements.”
For Xerox, the personal element was key.
“We asked ourselves, "Would it be more engaging if we told a story?' ” Carone said. “We said, "Let's give it a try.' If we didn't feel it was well-communicated to our constituents, we could always do a news release at a later date.”
Carone said that regulatory requirements, which often necessitate official publication via news releases, weren't involved in this particular case.
“We were realistic about this,” she said. “We realized that the announcement didn't require top-line media coverage. But we wanted to ensure that our employees and the customer base who were engaged in external social channels jumped on the news quickly.”
Carone said that, with this announcement, the personal touch was important.
“I wrote it from a personal perspective,” Carone said. “I offered a less formal tone. This doesn't work every time, and a lot of companies will have the obligation to issue a press release. But for us, social is becoming a new, important way to spread meaningful messages.”
Carone's blog received 2,400 visits on its first day online; and, after two days, that figure doubled.
“This turned out to be a more engaging approach to distributing news,” Carone said. “This isn't rocket science, but every day we're taking some risks and learning.”