Many Thanks to Clients, Extended Team Members and Friends for a Very Lucky 13!

2173687764_8919d05dca_z.jpgLooking back on our first 13 years in business, it is amazing to reflect on the change in what we do. When we first hung a shingle in 2003, the concept of "social media" was not well defined or understood and RIM's Blackberry was the dominant mobile device, offering a hint of what smartphones would become. That said, the writing was clearly on the wall. We were de-emphasizing traditional media relations and urging clients to incorporate interactive elements into their websites.

In 2003, social networks were in their infancy, with MySpace, Friendster and Linkedin all launching in 2002-2003. For us at DPK Public Relations and other public relations counselors, this was a period of experimentation. I remember Web marketing expert and client Ed Schipul speaking to various marketing and PR groups urging the PR community to try these tools and get comfortable with them or risk becoming obsolete. At the time, PR people generally resisted experimenting with technology, fearing the wrath of IT departments if they broke something.

At DPK Public Relations, we tried the various emerging tools, established profiles and interacted with people online. We learned about search engine optimization, which had a clear relation to campaign messaging. However, few clients allowed us to use social networks to do client work, either because it had no apparent return on investment at the time or because they considered the potential for harm far greater than the potential for benefit.

At about this time, Wordpress launched, bringing with it an explosion in blogging. Now here was something we understood and through which we could provide clients clear benefit. After all, our thinking was that blogging was basically like the ghost writing we had been doing since the early days of PR. At first we approached blogs as opportunities to showcase the talents of subject matter experts from the ranks of our clients. Blogs were also a simple way to encourage engagement. And that was where the difference between blogs and contributed articles became crystal clear.

Although the norms and expectations of blogging evolved gradually over time, it eventually became apparent that blogs required transparency and disclosure in a way that ghost writing does not. If I wrote something for a client CEO, we wouldn't dream of crediting it to the ghost writer or disclosing that the CEO only participated in the thinking and not the actual writing. But a CEO blog was really expected to be from the CEO and by the CEO. If not, it should be disclosed. This was a significant change. Blogs also required rapid response to comments, which was not something most corporate counsel were comfortable with. It took a lot of time and training to establish the policies that guide these activities today.

It was just a few months later that Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins established Facebook. It operated mostly under the radar for a couple years, but college students were buzzing about it in 2005. Then Youtube was established and online video and community generated content absolutely exploded.

When Facebook went mainstream in 2006, opening to users beyond college students, it appeared to be little more than an easier to use MySpace. At about that time, Twitter stole the show at SXSW Interactive, and microblogging exploded. When Facebook adopted Twitter's 'news stream' format in 2007, the stage was set for social media channels to dominate public interaction.

With the concurrent decline of traditional news media, which slashed newsroom staffing, public relations in large measure became focused on utilizing social media channels to listen to communities and spread messages. This has all occurred during the same 13-year span that DPK Public Relations has existed. We have thrived because we saw this change not as a threat to traditional ways of communicating, but because we approached it as an opportunity to connect in more authentic and personal ways on behalf of our clients.

It has always been our strong stance that the fundamentals of public relations planning and strategy do not change just because new ways of communicating emerge. PR is and always has been about establishing and strengthening relationships with communities of people on whom our clients' succeeses depend. It matters not whether we connect with people in person, over the phone (remember talking on the phone?) SMS messaging, apps, social media, or good old fashioned traditional mass media. The key is to have clear, consistent and understandable messaging that relates powerful, compelling stories that drive people to take action.

The client that has most aggressively embraced and championed social media channels as a way to connect and advance their brand is Saint Arnold Brewing Company. The key to their success has been a willingness to try new things. Some work and some don't.

Since shortly after launching their company in the mid-90s, Saint Arnold Founder Brock Wagner used e-mail to connect with his community of fans - the Saint Arnold Army. Social media seemed like a logical extension of that. Today, guided by head of marketing Lennie Ambrose, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. has 77,000 likes on Facebook and 56,000 followers on Twitter. They also are active on Instagram and Youtube, and periodically broadcast live on Periscope, using each channel in distinct ways to build buzz and connect with the craft beer community.

Since the start of all the excitement about social media, we at DPK Public Relations encouraged clients to think of each tool as another channel -- just like another channel on the TV. It is another way to connect. It doesn't necessarily need to change how or what we communicate, but each provides an opportunity to illustrate how we are valuable in an individual's life.

Can we say that we saw all this coming 13 years ago? Absolutely not! But we maintained a mindset that embraces continuous improvement and constant change and that has served DPK Public Relations and our clients well. What an amazing 13 years!

Photo by Basheer Tome