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Blog, Communications, Media, Technology

Communications Renaissance: Thoughts From Guest Lecturing


Last night, I had the pleasure of guest lecturing at NYU for a class about PR 2.0. About 2 minutes into the class, I felt right at home. Maybe it was because the class was intimate – only 8 students; maybe it was because the professor, Matt Knell made me feel at ease. Or maybe because I’ve been there before, in front of a class of people wanting to learn.

Talking in front of students triggered some strong memories of when I was a young (24!) adjunct professor of communication, and after a few minutes, the nerves and sweaty palms and quaking knees subsided. It was, as the saying goes, like riding a bike. 

So the lecture – it was actually more like a discussion, which I prefer – was about the state of public relations. We discussed the definition of PR, how messaging works and how we can distribute that message via multiple vehicles – both online and off. We discussed how the changing communications landscape affects public relations officials. And we discussed Double Rainbows.

I’ve defined public relations several times, but I’ve never discussed how technology has had an effect on our roles as communicators. 

Because of technology:

  • we no longer control the message – we can create the message, but audiences, with all the information in the universe at the tip of their fingers, can now dictate a company’s message. 
  • audiences expect to hear from us – social media has democratized information flow to the point where I now expect companies and brands to reach out to me. In the past, when visiting a hotel and having a terrible experience, our only options to express our disappointment was via a letter to the company or a phone call to the front desk, hoping the problem would get rectified or we’d get a discount/money back. Often times, our protests fell on deaf ears. Now, we blog, tweet, update our status about the terrible experience and sure enough, we’ll get a response via a DM, email or comment on a blog. At least from companies who understand social media can be a great place for customer service.
  • we can now measure our work. Prior to the advancements in data-mining, we gauged our success based on the number of eyeballs that read an article. So, we’d argue, the NYT has a circulation of 3 million. That means 3 million people read about our clients! We all know this is not necessarily true, as it assumes that everyone who subscribed to the paper read the whole paper, front to back, and every article. But now, we can easily measure who’s reading the articles our clients are in. We can also spread the article – and thus measure it – via email, Twitter, Facebook to reach more people. And not only can we measure how many people read the piece, but we can measure sentiment, or what people are talking about on social networks. I can see how people are discussing my clients on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere, which allows me to draft, create and respond to the audience.

The communications landscape changes quite frequently these days, and it’s our job to understand the tools available to us to make our clients communications strategy that much more relevant. After speaking to students last night about this, and gauging by their interaction, I think our discipline is in a renaissance.

I’d love to be able to get back in the classroom and expound on this – and all the other communications theories I love – to a new generation of communications hopefuls. 



About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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