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Let’s start with definitions. Centralized PR means all press communications going through one authorized channel, often a PR professional, in the form of official press statements. Journalists have to rely on a single gatekeeper and wait until they get access to information.
Businesses in 2021 still relied on centralized press communications to launch products and deliver corporate news. Meanwhile, the tech industry offers news to break almost every day, whether it’s Facebook rebranding, or Donald Trump releasing a social network or Apple unveiling a new MacBook. Can the official PR comms cut through the noise?
Hardly ever. It might look like I’m shooting myself in the leg, but a centralized PR approach is no longer relevant for the tech industry. Innovative and fluid in their sense, technology and media live and breathe with trends, punchy reactions and staying on top of the agenda. This is where decentralized PR comes in handy.
What is decentralized PR?
Decentralized PR means the company has multiple legit sources of information for press — notably, on social media platforms. Those sources can include, but are not limited to:
Corporate social media profiles used to respond to media, e.g., Viber was able to convey its position directly to a reporter, when it was of great importance to users.
Personal social media profiles of CEO and C-suite, e.g., the infamous Twitter of Elon Musk where the posts can cause dramatic shifts in stock markets.
Personal social media profiles of functional leaders and PR representatives, e.g., Matt Cutts’ Twitter was a major source of insights on Google search algorithm updates until his resignation in 2016.
Reddit AMAs or threads handled by the company’s experts, etc.
Among great examples I saw recently, quite a few belong to Apple, which changed its press communications policy last year. When unveiling new MacBook Pros in October, Apple posted a message on Twitter minutes before emailing journalists. And, used it to post video announcements that are exclusive to the platform.
Moreover, Apple is breaking news not only through official brand pages, but also the company’s employees. And Google picked up the trend by announcing Pixel 6 in the form of a funny chain of tweets between all Google services.
Decentralized PR has multiple benefits — from more human and direct communication lines to the ability to quickly react to events without being held back by chains of approvals, to better and (hopefully) warmer communication and coverage. At the end of the day, “reporters want pitches sent by founders, not PR agencies,” as Josh Consitine writes.
How to do decentralized PR?
Somewhat like digital transformation, a shift toward decentralized PR cannot be done overnight. Instead, each company should approach it carefully to avoid a Wild West in its public comms. Here are some tips to consider.
Know your strengths
Despite all the benefits, it’s not for everyone. Startups by default should use an advantage of direct-to-media communication — founders and the team are always the best and often the only speakers. At the start of the business, it makes sense not to outsource your reputation fully to PR and build your credibility directly instead.
For larger companies, a classic press service combined with additional communication lines is a great idea. In the Apple example, Twitter communications are supplemented by a powerful press center with all the b-rolls journalists and bloggers need — including the ability to download texts and graphics.
Choose the platforms
Twitter has long been a platform where journalists hang out. And for many startups, Twitter is also the main platform for the founder’s presence and creating a community around his vision. According to a study by Muck Rack:
76 percent of journalists say Twitter is the most valuable social network to them, and 37 percent plan to use Twitter more in the next year
16 percent turned to Twitter as their first news source, a trend we’ve seen for the last four years
Twitter is about interaction and context, about memes and communication. You have to be a communication ace to excel at it — or Cardi B. But would uploading all press releases to Twitter be a done deal? Of course not!
Other platforms such as LinkedIn might be more relevant to the message you deliver. Microblogging, expressing opinions on the current agenda or even communicating with potential employees can bring a long-term benefit. Also, following media managers and journalists on Twitter can ensure you are up-to-date with the latest media policies updates. For example, the Verge’s and Quartz updated guidance on the conditions under which journalists will talk to people off the record. And there are times when social media should be cast aside — even pros make mistakes and offend a lot of journalists at once.
Create a policy
Probably the most important step is to define your approach to press communications online. PR and media policies provide a framework for appropriate online publishing and discussion/ For both employees and main company speakers, including blogs, user-generated video and audio, virtual worlds and social networks. It’s also a document that can explain the most common PR terms such as exclusive, embargo, pitch, press release types and so on.
Identify the company’s main speakers, who can comment on expert topics. Decide which topics you are ready to discuss and which you are not, what business stories you are able to tell and which are restricted by the legal boundaries, business strategy or confidentiality. Think about what you would like to read and learn from brands on a regular basis. Determine who is responsible and what levels of commitments you make.
It’s handy to create a transparent approach based on common industry understanding of best practice, to avoid PR issues like CEO calling out journalists for doing their work. A PR Policy document should not only give you flexibility. It should also clear guidelines for the level of communication you would like to build with the external audiences.
Media train people
Coaching founders, C-suite and more junior leaders on speaking to the media directly is a must. Use the policy, but also share those useful tips that were given by journalists. For anyone authorized and trained to speak publicly for the company, it’s recommended to subscribe to opinion leaders and journalists, and allocate an hour a day to read, comment and share interesting observations.
Show the benefit
PR work is like a compound interest in finance. You invest quality efforts on an ongoing basis, and it returns as an accumulation and growth of positive reputation. This work takes time and requires a smart test and learning approach. Make sure your team has a clear performance tracker and KPI framework to showcase the benefits of decentralized PR. If done right, it will drive more loyalty from the audiences.