lola enjoying rolling in poopDo you ever feel that you’ve worked really hard to break out of one box, only to be put in another, in a way you didn’t anticipate?

I do.

And I wonder if it’s an ironic and unintended consequence of doing such a good job of positioning ourselves, that we’ve positioned ourselves all the way into a box. Maybe a slightly larger and more comfortable box, but a box, nonetheless.

The early PR days

Early on in my career, I was very clear that “PR” wasn’t just “publicity.” So while I did a lot of media relations and publicity for various clients (at which I was very good, false humility aside), I was more interested in learning how those great “hits” made a tangible difference to the client. That’s what kickstarted my interest in measurement, which is why #measurePR came about, and so on.

But my foundational years were in pitching. How to write a really good news release; how to craft a pitch; the right and wrong ways of PR pitching, and the blood, sweat and tears of securing great (according to the client) results … all these are things I cut my teeth on.

IABC v. PRSA

It was that interest and determination that I was not going to be boxed into “publicity” that made me join IABC instead of PRSA, many years ago. I didn’t want to only meet “PR” professionals; I wanted to meet communicators in other areas of the field, and learn more about it as a holistic discipline.

I had to choose between IABC and PRSA because, at the time, I paid my dues myself (as I do now), and I could only afford one (they’re comparable). So I chose IABC, going on to earn my accreditation from there as well (in case anyone is wondering, I am now a member of both IABC and PRSA and still pay my dues out of my own pocket!).

But through my years as an IABC member and volunteer at various levels, I strongly espoused the benefits of “good PR,” and hopefully educated a few people along the way.

Media strategy

As I progressed in my career, I worked at PR agencies that did a great job on the media relations front, yet to me, the strategy was always more interesting. So that’s what I tried to learn more about, and I jumped at opportunities to manage entire campaigns. That doesn’t mean I didn’t actually do the work; I did, but it was much more of the strategy development and then ensuring the implementation was right.

Then I went in-house, to build up a PR department and put my organization “on the map,” as it were, for its field. I did this successfully; so successfully, I basically worked myself out of a job (because there was nothing left for me to do at my then-current level). Media relations was still a large part of our work, and there were rarely instances where I could completely extricate myself from it.

But for the most part, I would work on strategy, messaging, certain types of content, etc., and when it came to media, handled some of the highest-level media myself (depending on the issue at hand). And again, what I loved was to watch the results and try and figure out how those results were beneficial to the organization.

Enter social media

Along the way I started getting interested in social media. I didn’t know a single thing about working online, but I figured my way along. Four years ago, when I started this blog, I was so, so nervous! But people helped me, and for better or worse, it is what it is today, with the wonderful contributors and community who come here every now and then to have a read, or a chat, or both, or more.

I fell in love with Twitter, came to grips with Facebook, and became enthralled by what digital analytics could tell us. I started teaching digital strategy, and speaking about it, and getting paid to both more and more (wow!).

Yet with all these developments, I tried to remind people that “dead tree media” isn’t really dead; that the substance of PR is the same as it was decades ago, and that, in fact, if you have a good grounding in traditional PR, you’ll probably grow by leaps and bounds in the digital media world.

The “social media person”

Which is why it struck me as somewhat ironic when, the other day, a prospect – with whom I’m very interested in working – asked me if I’d even be interested in the work, since the initial phase will require extensive traditional PR (which I agree with). Because I’m “more of a social media” person.

Talk about tweeting myself into a box.

Going on the record

For the record, I do think social media is quite wonderful, and not in a “shiny new” way. I think it’s wonderful because of the two- and multi-way conversation it allows, facilitates and promotes, which all help with relationship building. It’s wonderful because we can now tell our stories ourselves, or via our communities, and vice versa; we don’t need “the media” to do it for us.

Of course it helps when “the media” are on board, but they are one element of a good PR strategy, rarely the be-all and end-all. Yet, at its core, “PR” is still very much about relationship building. We just happen to also use social media and social networks to do it (which is why I call what I practice and implement for clients “social PR“).

When this conversation took place, I was a little taken aback. Had I done such a good job of “rebranding” myself and my skills, as it were, that I’m now perceived only as a “new media” professional instead of one who can create and, when necessary, implement a holistic new and old media strategy?

I thought I was done breaking out of the box!

Old or new; old and new

I sure hope this is just a temporary hiccup. I hope that it’s an unanticipated and unintended consequence of my being, for what it’s worth, one of the “old guard” who’s taken the time to experiment with new tools; so much so that I’m now perceived as more in step with the “new” than the “old.” But I certainly don’t want to be out of the running for certain projects, and campaigns, because of that.

I like integrated communication strategy. I love integrated communication strategy. And when I can measure it and show its benefits to the bottom line, I’m happier than a dog rolling in poop.

So I better not have broken out of one box only to have landed in another. Because that’s the last thing I need.

What about you: is this something you’ve faced as well, one way or the other? How did you deal with it? And if you don’t mind my asking, how do you perceive my skills and I, to the extent that you know me? I feel a little weird asking, but I figure that’s the only way I’ll find out… so if you are comfortable sharing, do, please!

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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