Public Relations and the Power of Podcasting

The marketing world is abuzz with the notion of blogging and podcasting as tools for greater saturation, visibility, touch, whatnot. We've been hasing out some of those concepts around here and I thought I'd take a minute to outline them.

I started experimenting with podcasting last month for a public relations course I just wrapped up. It was a small class, a good one full of guinea pigs for my tech machinations. The course is offered as a hybrid -- on ground one week, online three weeks, on ground one week -- so I pitched to the students that it might be a fun experiement to try podcasting my online lectures for the three weeks we're not together.

Using GarageBand, a new condenser microphone, a PreSonus breakout box, and my previously typed lectures as my scripts, I jumped in. The feedback was wonderful. I had students telling me that the whole concept changed the way they interact with the content. That they gather around their computer with their families and listen together -- a la some sort of post-modern "Fireside Chat".

Hyperbole aside, it helped me, too. Being able to provide the tone of the lecture along with the slides allowed me to connect with the material in a new way, to connect in a way I hadn't experienced with the traditional on ground lectures to boot. They're focused. They're tangible. They're tactile, in a strange way, knowing that the students are out there warehousing my material on their iPods makes the whole process brilliantly fused with distance education.

When I finally took the lid off my little experiment for University administration, the response was guarded, but positive. While the technology was dazzling -- certainly dazzling to those who have no experience with this sort of wizardry day-to-day -- the cynics and technical folks rallied against the concept for every reason you can probably already imagine: too expensive to host, too expensive to serve, can't put University intellectual property on a publicly accessible site, etc, etc, etc.,

But it sparked dialog, and gave me a soapbox to talk about this technology from a PR perspective. Here are my points:

  1. This technology frees organizations from the whims of professional media.

  2. This technology allows organizations to develop the elusive "Transparent Relationship" with their publics.

  3. Organizations who ignore this technology risk alienating a large new market segment that expects otherwise.

The Whims of Professional Media

The PR role is a tricky one. Aligning an organization's message with the needs of the media public is not an easy job. To do it well, it requires a mind-numbingly detailed awareness of media outlets in the markets and within that understanding, a grasp of the timeliness of news as it passes through the public filter. When hard news is heavy, when trends fall out of favor, getting your pitches acknowledged can be chronically difficult.

Our contract and in-house PR pros are wonderful. They get it. They understand our message and they drive to spread the word by defining and crafting messages and delivering stories to media outlets with whom they have a sound history -- a relationship. But if the news cycle drives our segment out of the spotlight, our story is canned no matter how strong the reporter relationship is.

What this technology delivers organizations is opportunity. Opportunity to define and craft your messaging, define your core audience, and deliver your message yourself in a cost effective medium. Organizational PR pros can now control the distribution of their messages and take advantage of timeliness and targeting that compliments the news cycle, not combats it.

Transparent Relationships

I'm a subscriber to the idea that markets are conversations. The brains that have lead the charge on that front are certainly greater pros than I at this stuff. So, what I have to say here really serves to amplify a point that I'm not satisfied is trumpeted loudly enough.

Publics expect the conversation.

Marketers do their level best to figure out how to start the conversation because it feels like value-added to let our customers in on our little secrets. Value-added is no longer of value, it's assumed. If we stand on our walls and open doors for minions to enter and behold our inner-workings, we're shuttering the rest of the world -- we're inviting the masses to go elsewhere, to find the conversation.

We're not doing our customers any favors by building transparency into our operations. We're doing just what they have expected all along.

Ignorance is Alienation

The time to start the dialog is yesterday. The technology is far too easy to adopt, to build upon, to produce passable content. With another day that goes by, so goes another of our peers leveraging these tools against us. The generation we're marketing with, the Echo Boomers, Millenials, Flip-Floppers, Thumbers, they are already the MySpace generation. They're raised on distance education. They've studied their online games, they've IM'd across fanboards and now they're Skyping all around us while we're just getting used to DSL.


But it's more than just the technology. Right now, blogs are read if they're pertinent. Podcasts are devoured because they're cool. If that timeline persists, blogs should be completely outmoded in three years and podcasting will be a vast new advertising sponsored audiovisual black hole. Popularity will be defined by utility: the level at which we're able to deliver use beyond cool.

Here are a few things I'm working on right now.

  1. Remedial Skills Development It's not really fair to call them "remedial skills". Many students who hit our classes don't have the basic formatting, computing, and critical thinking skills to feel comfortable in our program. To help out, we're launching a podcast show, talk radio style, interviewing our best faculty across disciplines giving students tips and tricks on basic academic performance. Not sure how to format and APA paper? We can talk about that. How about PowerPoint? We can get you started there as well. Need to know what is and is not considered plagiarism? We've got you covered. These will be hosted centrally and offered as an enrollment tool for academic counselors and faculty with students not quite ready to for prime time academia.

  2. Trends and Issues This is a roundtable discussion show taking on the issues of concern to our students. Where will the jobs be in tech five years from now? What's it like to leave school and join a union as a teacher? I'm 23 and my older classmates don't understand me -- what's with that? We'll bring in faculty experts and toss around and issue for an hour, hoping to build a resource for our students to sink their teeth into; something that will help them feel more safe and confident in clas
    s. They're not alone, and we understand.

They're weather balloons, but we're doing our best to get on board now. Does the organization understand it? No. Is it our charge to push, and keep pushing until they do? Absolutely. Our customers expect it.