Should Seasoning Be Saved for Steaks? The Value of Experience in PR (Part 1)

Thinkstock
Thinkstock
Thinkstock

It’s easy to fall back on the number of years’ experience we have. We all do it. It’s often a badge of honor on LinkedIn profiles, many agencies boast the collective experience of their management teams and it’s clear from a quick look through our website that we are proud to be one of the longest established tech PR agencies in the world.

But how important is it? How relevant is experience gained in the eighties, nineties and even noughties to the way we engage audiences today? And can experience be more of an anchor than an asset?

The answer of course depends on how that experience is applied. As the Harvard Business Review recently pointed out, the way that marketers engage customers has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. And PR has been at the forefront of that change. The changes across traditional, social and digital media have been well documented (and they are nothing compared to what will happen next with mobile), but knowing the changes and understanding the implications can often be two very different things.

When trying to navigate these changes, there can be the temptation to lean on past experiences. But when, as the HBR explains, “strategies and tactics that were cutting edge just a few years ago are already becoming obsolete,” that can be a dangerous approach.

Take messaging and positioning. Almost every traditional PR program contains a messaging exercise, but to get people’s attention in today’s economy, such exercises are about as relevant as a mission statement pinned to the wall. Instead, over the last few years, people have begun to recognize the power of storytelling. But just like in Hollywood, all stories are not created equal. If storytelling fails to tap into the audience’s imagination and follows the same structure as traditional messaging projects, it simply becomes the same old marketing messages masquerading as a story.

And it’s not just the larger strategic initiatives where rigidly applying past experience can be less than helpful. As even if we do completely rethink exercises like messaging and positioning and adopt approaches such as viral storytelling, it’s not much use if we then use the same tactics from 10 years ago to tell said story.

To look at how those tactics have changed and see if experiences from the past can still be applied, the next post in this series will take on the changes in the way we reach our audiences.