Blogs  / February 19, 2014

Nice Girl, Author, Entrepreneur and #PRStudChat Co-founder Gets Lippy

by Rebekah Iliff

In PR, an industry largely driven by the female constituency, there are two distinct camps: the mean girls and the nice girls. The “PR mean girl” is not a stereotype – it’s a living, breathing, actual creature. And it totally sucks.

When I shifted into the tech side of PR, I needed to know who my advocates would be…because they were (and are) the ones who would support us in moving the proverbial PR needle.

Before we launched our second product, I asked my former colleague, Kelly Byrd, to give me her Top 10 list of PR nice girls – because our first product had surfaced the mean girls, and I wanted to arm myself with “reinforcements”.

At the top of her list?

Deirdre Breckenridge presentingA very talented, beautiful, kind, and extremely intelligent gal by the name of Deidre Breakenridge. In addition to being the CEO of Pure Performance Communications, she co-founded #PRStudChat and is the author of five (YES FIVE!) PR and social media focused books.

If it’s not obvious by the following interview I conducted with her a few weeks ago, I have a serious serious serious #nicegirlcrush on this woman.

And I imagine you will too…

Rebekah Iliff: You have been at the forefront during the convergence of marketing and technology. What are the 3 biggest things in your opinion that have changed over the last decade due to this fusion? 

Deirdre Breakenridge: We’ve experienced so many changes over the past 10 years, but here are the top three that come to mind as a turning point in our communications:

#1 – Mastering a new communications approach in social media communities was the first big hurdle for companies. Whether it was through their own choice (the “aha” moment) or a result of negative issues and/or crisis (the “uh-oh” moment), they moved away from broadcast spammy messages to being present in targeted, two-way conversations and actively sharing more customized stories, focusing on human and transparent interactions with people.

#2 – Another huge change was learning to focus on social media communications beginning on the inside of the company. Some organizations, not all, realized early on that developing policies, training and governance programs would guide better participation and build company champions. Many companies set up internal collaborative platforms for employees to share and innovate, which ultimately allowed for much better external communications and engagement with the public.

#3 – The last big change was on the measurement front. Determining impact and ROI has gotten even more complex for communications professionals.  Just when most PR pros were agreeing on the Barcelona Principles, and not focusing on AVE’s, new ways to measure and capture metrics through social media surfaced, with no standardization. Having an understanding of the different metrics required for various areas of the company, e.g., metrics for business executives and stakeholders vs. metrics for community managers, helps us move toward standardization.

RI: Historically, measurement has always been a tough practice in the PR world. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing technology would be able to measure with ease and clarity?

Deirdre Breckenridge teaching

DB: Although PR shows value in many ways, I would still like technology to clearly show how PR drives ROI, and is a part of the ROI puzzle. For me, this could resemble a simple correlation model that demonstrates the impact of PR and communications tied to the bottom line. Even though much of what we do in PR is intangible, it would be great to take a mix of data, including engagement data from PR / social media programs paired with web analytics / referral traffic, CRM and sales data, all seamlessly plugged into one place.

RI: Ah-hem, shameless plug – so basically what Onclusive Analyst is doing?

DB: Oh right! Yes. This really helps illustrate how data together – quarter over quarter – correlates to show where and how the organization generates a return and achieves higher level business goals, noting PR’s involvement.

The caveat…this requires PR to move outside of its silo and to interact much more closely with marketing, sales, web and customer service. Sharing data across these areas would help to reveal a more complete ROI picture and allow executives see how PR is not only achieving communications objectives, but is tied to those areas of financial importance.

RI: Better communications on the inside of a company results in better communications on the outside. What are one or two of the best internal collaboration tools you’ve seen in use?  

Deirdre Breckenridge panel smileDB: You can be extremely effective with simple tools including Google Docs, if everyone using the tool is on the same page and willing to collaborate together. Other tools I’ve used with success are BaseCamp and Twiddla.  However, WebEx and GoToMeeting are good when you want to create that virtual video playground with your colleagues who are in different states or various regions of the world.

Doing your due diligence and “Tech Testing” the technology to find the right platform is the easy and fun part. The real success is when the entire team is on board and using the technology together.

RI: In your book Social Media And Public Relations, you offer up 8 practices for PR professionals living and working in a real-time, data driven world. What practice in particular do you think people should be turning their attention to?  

DB: Although all of the practices are important for today’s real time world, I would have to select Practice #5: The Pre-Crisis Doctor. In this practice, the PR professional realizes that there is the opportunity to listen/monitor more closely to catch negative comments or issues before they escalate into crisis. It’s imperative for companies to be pre-emptive and mitigate crisis risk in an age of public conversations.

RI: If change is the new constant, what is the most exciting shift you’re seeing in the here and now? 

DB: The ability to capture data and create relevant communication in real time has tremendous communication potential. Data allows us to be completely tuned into the market at all times and helps us to develop more creative and meaningful PR programs.

I just finished a session on PR & Big Data for smart communications. It’s amazing the tools we have for data collection and insights. For quick, free tools, the Google toolbox includes Google Analytics, Google Trends and Google Databoard.

The key to smart data is understanding how to filter the massive amounts of data available, and then organizing it for actionable insights. In the past, research for communications programs took a considerable amount of time to develop the research instruments, distribute and then collect and evaluate the results to move forward with a campaign. Today, a massive amount of data can be organized and structured quickly to respond with immediacy through a real-time dashboard.

EXAMPLE: During last year’s Super Bowl, when the lights went out, Oreo tweeted a timely ad message, “You can still dunk in the dark.”

RI: Currently, you are an adjunct professor at NYU. What do you love most about teaching the next generation of PR pros and what skill sets are most important for them to develop? 

DB: It’s always been a passion to work with students and young professionals. Mentoring should be at the heart of our profession. For me, the learning goes both ways. When I teach, whether it’s physically in the classroom at NYU or online for the UMASS at Amherst Journalism program or for Rutger’s PR Certificate program, I’m a student too.

Students today have a much better opportunity to learn through social media with an abundance of industry information available and knowledge that goes so far beyond a textbook. The important skills students and young professionals need will be those of the Universal PR Professional. This is the communications pro who shows flexibility in a global organizational environment, builds relationships through new media, understands the business of communications, and is skilled in technology to better guide the way organizations interact with the public.

HeadshotAbout Deirdre K. Breakenridge

Deirdre K. Breakenridge is Chief Executive Officer at Pure Performance Communications. A veteran in PR and marketing, Breakenridge has counseled senior level executives at companies including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Empire Today, Hershey’s, JVC, Marketwired and Siegel+Gale.

Breakenridge is the author of five Financial Times books. Her most recent book, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional,” was published in May 2012 and is available in print and all digital formats. Her other books include, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,”  “PR 2.0, New Media, New Tools, New Audiences,”  “The New PR Toolkit” and “Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy.”

Breakenridge is an adjunct professor at New York University (NYU) and an online instructor at UMASS at Amherst. She speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of PR, marketing and social media communications. She is a member of PRSA and has served on the Board of NJ/PRSA and the New Jersey Advertising Club. Top Rank named Breakenridge among the 25 Women that Rock Social Media and Traackr recognized Breakenridge among the top 10 PR 2.0 Influencer in 2012.

Deirdre blogs about PR 2.0 strategies and is the co-founder of #PRStudChat, a dynamic Twitter discussion scheduled monthly for PR students, educators and PR pros.