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Lifting the Visor

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mask.jpgSince I made the jump to the corporate world ten years ago (has it been that long?) after serving as a reporter at Bloomberg, I've seen quite a few changes in how the media operates. Deadlines are tighter, most stories have a global reach and the number of publications and news outlets I deal with has grown dramatically.

Add to this the emergence of a new class of healthcare reporter -- the blogger. Some members of this new breed of journalist, including Peter Rost (Question Authority), Ed Silverman (Pharmalot), and Jim Edwards (BrandWeek NrX) have been regularly breaking news.

Reading over some recent postings, I came across an item by Jim Edwards about social media and the future of PR. I'm not going to comment on the news that prompted Jim's post, but I do agree with him that PR has got to change.

Healthcare bloggers are breaking stories, but they aren't necessarily playing by the same old rules. Deadlines are short, and some folks no longer feel the need to wait for company comment or perspective before running a story.

Furthermore, bloggers aren't shy about pulling back the curtain and showing how PR works. How a response statement is developed, which agencies are involved and the strategies that are employed are all fair game for posts. (When I was a reporter, I used to get very ticked when a public relations contact would wait to call me back after he or she was sure I would be out of the office. Today, a blog would provide a great way for me to broadcast my frustrations...)

As bloggers and other journalists demand faster response times, more content and background and to have a response from real people in an authentic voice, PR professionals are going to have to adopt new approaches to keep pace.

Ray Jordan, who heads my department, recognized the growing importance of blogging and social media more than two years ago and started the conversations that provided the inspiration for the creation of Kilmer House, JNJ BTW and, recently, a few internal blogs. (You can see his own perspective on the importance of the blogosphere on his CalmPatientandGoodHumored blog.)

But it isn't just about adding cool new tools. The real challange for PR -- and this is where it gets really tough -- is to find an authentic voice and, whenever possible, to provide access, perspective and a deeper insight into what was behind decisions that were reached. In a large organization, this could involve breaking with tradition and taking steps that may run counter to the existing culture. But the result, hopefully, would be a story that you define and that provides a more complete picture than can be achieved through a press release or formal statement.

Ray's predecessor, Bill Nielsen, said that public relations is about "truth well told." That should always be our goal. While blogs and other social media tools do provide a great new way to share those truths, the real challenge is to have organizations tell a more complete tale.

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