The CEO of a well-established software solutions company came to Altitude asking for public relations help. We knew we were in for a challenge when, throughout our first meeting, he kept insisting that all he needed was “three PRs a month.” By PR, he meant “press release.”

Didn’t matter what the “PRs” were going to say. Didn’t care that the company had no properly prepared company spokesperson if one of those “PRs” caught the attention of a trade journalist seeking an interview. Didn’t think about leveraging the releases to increase website traffic, or goal conversions. Didn’t want to hear that the messaging on the website was years out of date. He measured the effectiveness of a public relations campaign based on quantity, not quality.

Unfortunately, the CEO in question is not alone in his attitude. Many company leaders, isolated at the top of the food chain, still retain a decidedly archaic understanding of what public relations means as we head toward 2020–and why it must be integrated into the company’s overarching print and online marketing strategy.

It doesn’t take a marketing whiz (or a teenager) to realize that the way we communicate and consume information has evolved almost beyond what the imagination could have conjured even 10 years ago. Today, public relations is anything and everything you do to communicate and raise visibility among your many constituent groups. It is multi-dimensional, with press releases one small sliver of the pie.

What Is PR in 2020?

PR isn't just about press releases anymore. PR is thought leadership. Today, any business leader in any industry has unprecedented opportunities to become an opinion and thought leader as well. Websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogging–all have given each and every one of us a megaphone. The smart ones have grabbed that megaphone to carve out their niche. Position yourself as an expert with conviction and frequency and people will start to follow and believe what you have to say. Prospects will take notice. You’ll be invited to speak at industry events. Leads will follow. Conversions will be easier. And the competition will be caught playing catch-up.

PR is social media. Power to the people. That megaphone I mentioned? That is the beauty of social media. Use it wisely. A lot of the self-proclaimed “social media experts” are playing a quantity game, espousing tactics to help you get as many followers and fans as you can. But it’s all about quality, not quantity. You’re better off having 150 people following you who actually care about what you have to say than 1,500 who are only following you to inflate their own numbers. We recently inked a new client who was following my Tweets, which tend to be tongue-in-cheek marketing observations. He liked the style and insight, visited our website and promptly asked me for an appointment. This stuff works.

PR is customer service. Deliver great customer service consistently and you will create brand evangelists. This is the most powerful PR you can generate. Last week I had one of those crappy Mondays. Rainy, cold, and a host of urgent needs screaming for my attention. One of those needs involved getting a wire transfer set up. I didn’t have time to run to the bank to deal with it, so I called–and my bank came to my office, with all the forms filled out, to save me the time. I was thrilled–and I let everyone know. Tweeted it. Blogged it. Shared it with friends. And I sent the VP at the bank a nice note.

PR is community involvement. Get involved. Be a good corporate citizen. You will feel great and generate a ton of good will. Then leverage the heck out of it in your company communications–website, emails, sales efforts, website, blog. For example, a great fine-dining restaurant in Emmaus hosted an MS fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. They cut this deserving non-profit a real break on the cost. There’s nothing wrong with turning around and letting all their customers know about. I guarantee you there are people on that list that support MS, are thinking about going out to dinner and will likely be swayed to book a reservation.

PR is trade show prep and follow through. The trade show itself is just the center of a wider-reaching effort. A client of ours in the insurance industry had never attended a trade show in the first 10 years of their company. They believed, and rightly so, that it was very expensive, and they questioned the ROI. We helped them understand that the way to maximize the ROI of a trade show is not at the show itself–but in the before-and-after PR efforts. Thanks to a well-coordinated series of emails, press releases, advertising, video releases and cocktail hour invitations starting months before, at the show our client heard comments like “Oh, I’ve heard of you!” and “You guys are everywhere!” Follow-up included personal phone calls and emails to the leads they gathered. The net result? They were included on the RFP list for several major prospects who previously hadn’t given them the time of day.

PR is brand messaging. Sharpen the message. Listen to your customers. Instill brand guidelines for your team–from the person answering the phone to the sales people to the CEO. When your team believes it, so will your customers and prospects.

PR is (last but not least) press relations. Yes, there’s still a place in the world for press releases. But simply sending out a press release to an overburdened writer or editor won’t get you anywhere. Make it easy for them. Tell them in your subject line and lead sentence why their readers should care about what you have to say. And make sure you send it to the right person or it will get deleted. And most importantly, adjust how you define “media.” For one client of ours in a niche industry, we have about a dozen traditional media outlets–but more than 250 industry-specific blogs that, collectively, have more than 10 times the total readership. The game has changed. So has the definition of PR.