Print Friendly Version Convert to PDF Convert to RTF
April 07, 2011

Rising Power: PR's Value in the Digital Age — Rosanna Fiske Keynote at Hispanicize Conference

PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, delivered the keynote address at the 2011 Hispanicize Hispanic PR and Social Media Conference April 7, 2011, in Los Angeles. She addressed the rising value of public relations and marketing, particularly in the Hispanic-American market, in light of recent United States Census data showing more than 50 million Hispanic-Americans live in the U.S., with a combined annual buying power of more than $1 trillion.



Rising Power: Public Relations' Value in the Digital Age

Rosanna M. Fiske, APR

Chair and CEO, PRSA

Delivered: April 7, 2011, in Los Angeles

Thank you, Manny. Buenas tardes … good afternoon. I am so happy to join you here! This is such an important moment in time for PRSA and to be here with you, that this year, I didn’t come alone. I want to recognize two of my PRSA national team members who are here with me today — Bill Murray, our president and COO, and Marisa Vallbona, a member of our board of directors. 
 
We come together for this exciting conference — the second of what has already become an influential industry gathering — to discuss public relations and social media in the U.S. Hispanic market.
 
I come before you four months into my tenure as chair of the board of directors and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, a 32,000-plus member organization, the largest in the world. This is a professional opportunity that is immensely enlightening for me, and one that I am privileged to pursue.
 
I’m also a professor at Florida International University, and many of my former students are here today as professionals. Let’s see hands — where are you?
 
After many years on the agency and corporate side, this is the best part of my life — mentoring the next generation of public relations and advertising professionals.
 
Like many of you, I have seen the dramatic changes that have taken place in our profession over the past decade, and viewed more broadly, since I started in my first corporate position. In case you can’t hear the excitement in my voice, let me make some points clear, right off the top:
 
After all this time, I’m still incredibly passionate about our profession; where our industry is heading; how it helps businesses grow; how public relations serves the public good; and the role we play in protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information that is essential to democratic societies. 
 
It’s a responsibility that I do not take lightly, both my role leading PRSA and my belief in public relations’ ability to do good for the world — for society and for the clients and organizations we counsel.
 
As you know, we’re in a time of significant global political upheaval, augmented by our own domestic concerns. This is what my grandfather would refer to as an “arroz con mango.”
 
But more seriously, in preparing these remarks, I asked myself whether there were something in my own experience that may be helpful to others — to business people in general, and in particular, public relations professionals. Were there some principles, perhaps, that can add perspective to what you and many of your colleagues have come here to learn about?
 
If you know me, then you know I am proud to be Hispanic. Most definitions do not define me as a Latina, but because I have lived and worked within this environment my entire professional life, I clearly identify with the Hispanic/Latino culture.
 
I’m not here solely to talk about what it means to be a Latina, the various nuances of marketing to this demographic and whether marketing to mi abuelo is the same as marketing to su abuelo.
 
What I am here to discuss with you today is a rising power in the global marketplace — the rising power of public relations.
 
And while I won’t tell you how long I’ve worked in public relations … let’s just say that Bush 41 was in office at the time, gas most certainly didn’t cost $4 a gallon and Mark Zuckerberg was, oh, only about 4 or 5 years old and the GoGo’s was the up-and-coming hot chic band … social media referred to the new era of watching music videos on television.
 
But, today … today, it’s absolutely remarkable the power that social media has given consumers, businesses, community activists, future presidents … you name it. And no, I don’t intend for this to turn into a “Social Media is Amazing!” speech. We’ve all heard that, and there’s no point rehashing it.
 
But think about what you do now and put that into perspective of what you did, say, five years ago. 10 years ago. 20 years ago. Does anything remotely look the same now as it did then?
 
Perhaps. Then again, five years ago, Twitter was just getting off the ground.
 
Ten years ago, most websites still looked like an Etch-A-Sketch, with lines and dots seemingly going nowhere but claiming to connect us everywhere and to everyone.
 
Twenty years ago … the commercial Internet barely existed; word processors were the name of the game – who here remembers Xywrite, WordPerfect and Multimate? And our fax machines and pagers were nearly as ubiquitous as today’s iPhones.  
 
Remember the original cell phone that looked more like a concrete block with a protruding black antenna? Try making that fit in your Gucci bag … not pretty.
 
The truth is, we’ve gone from needing half a dozen tools to communicate — a word processor, whiteout, an AP Stylebook, a fax machine, a landline phone, a pager, etc. — to just one: the smartphone.
 
Mobile technology, more so than anything else in the past 20 years, has transformed PR and marketing into thriving industries. What used to take 5 hours now takes as little as 15 minutes. We can draft a release on our phones, edit and proof it, send it to our various contacts, Tweet it and post it to Facebook in less time than it used to take to get our IBM selectric to erase the last typo.
 
All of that is but one small sliver of the total hemisphere of public relations’ value and influence. In the U.S. alone, spending on public relations services now exceeds $4 billion annually, and it is projected to jump 55 percent by 2013, to more than $8 billion.

This, from a business that just a few years ago, some called irrelevant. How many of you heard the occasional “Public relations is stale; it’s outdated; it’s all about one-way push communications, rather than actual engagement with the public.”
 
Well, let’s just say it wasn’t even considered worthy of a quinceañera party. It was advertising’s ugly step sister.
Dios mio, how times have changed!
 
I relayed those figures I quoted a moment ago to a reporter at the Financial Times with whomI had lunch recently in New York. He was very surprised at the robust growth in public relations calling it “palpable” — he’s used to holding-company CEOs boasting about their latest bottom lines, or what barely exists of them now. He was so surprised, in fact, that he came back to the numbers 10 minutes later and asked me if this could possibly be true. It is.

And as I told the Financial Times reporter, businesses and executives often don’t realize they need strategic public relations until it’s too late . . . PRSA is out to change that perception.

Just a few weeks ago, eMarketer released a report that found that among the top-25 principals in advertising, marketing and public relations agencies, PR professionals are the most effective when it comes to leveraging social media. This is huge. For the first time, three inter-related disciplines have agreed that public relations is really the owner of social media.
 
I’d have to agree!

Assessing Public Relations’ Value
This begs the question: what exactly is public relations’ overall value? We can’t be all things to all people. That’s a recipe for disaster. There already exist too many snake oil salesmen and gurus, who are out to make a quick buck or two on an unassuming CMO, who happens to be overwhelmed with the dozens of new social networks, CMS platforms, and analytics tools that come out each year … one replacing the other, one making the other obsolete.
 
But communicators — specifically, public relations executives — are especially prepared for adjusting and adapting to change. We’re used to telling CEOs and upper management those famous words from Beyonce … indeed the latest and greatest of anything is likely going to be replaced by something else. You know, to the left, to the left … If social media has taught us anything is that don’t you ever for one second get to thinking, you’re irreplaceable! 
 
This is the opportunity for public relations. Marketers are growing tired. “Where should I market my brand online?” seems to get more attention from overwhelmed marketers than to whom should my brand reach and impact?

But, in public relations, we stand for something greater. We reach beyond the lowest common denominator to ensure public relations’ value is not compromised by the swift dealings of a few. After all, the next big thing will always be on the horizon. Any marketer or PR professional worth his salt should not be selling his services to clients based solely on helping them tap into the next big thing. Public relations is about building a reputation, through solid and credible relationships, over time.

That brings us to the really big question all of us are faced with every day: What do today’s CEOs want and need most?
 
If you were to ask the public, they would likely tell you CEOs need better reputations. It’s doubtful many would argue that sentiment.
 
I read a recent post in The New York Times’' "You’re The Boss” blog that put the need for improved CEO reputations into perspective. In it, the author relayed a story from a CEO with a school-age son, who came home one day and asked if his father would call himself something other than a CEO. It seems that the boy’s classmates were giving him a hard time about the fact that his father runs a company — as if it were something to be embarrassed by.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for modern executives.
 
We’re at a precipitous moment for trust in American, not only trust in our institutions — government, health care, insurance — but in business. American capitalism — the driving force behind what has helped make first- and second-generation immigrants, like me, successful in this country in a relatively short period of time.
 
As the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates, trust in American businesses, and by extension, the reputations of corporations and their leaders, is now at an all-time low, at just 46 percent, or barely above last-place Russia. Yes, you heard right … Russia.

Think about that for a moment: trust in the American business community — the very clients you represent and the organizations you work for — is barely above the level of that in a country still struggling with the modern concept of free enterprise and democracy. That’s a somewhat disturbing thought.
 
All of which leads me to believe we’re at a monumental moment for the public relations industry.
 
Despite the worst economic recession any of us have experienced, and hopefully will never have to endure again, public relations is actually growing — rapidly.

Certainly, no one can say public relations is merely an add-on or “nice to have” service anymore. It is a must-have … you know, the kind that you-better-have-it-or-you’re-going-to-regret-it type of service …
 
Why do I say that? Well, aside from the fact that it’s kind of my job (I mean, I wouldn’t be much of a CEO for PRSA if I said otherwise!), anecdotal evidence and data all back me up.
 
Take, for example, the recent New York Times small-business blogger, restaurant owner Bruce Buschel.
Have you heard of this guy? Take a look around you, and it’s a good bet that the person sitting on either side of you has, and he or she can tell you all about his viewpoints on the value of public relations, or his belief in a lack thereof. Let’s put it this way: he thinks we all suck. And that’s putting it kindly.
 
Mr. Buschel recently went on a three-week tirade against public relations. At first, it seemed innocent enough. He wrote a post called “The Problem with Public Relations.” Not exactly original, but hey, the guy isn’t like you and me (clearly).
 
It seems that Mr. Buschel has a beef — no pun intended — with a couple of New York City agencies that he hired to help generate buzz — ugh, that awful word, buzz. Is there a translation for buzz in Spanish? “Buzzear?”
 
Let’s forget I ever said that, OK? Great. Back to Mr. Buschel’s restaurant. He hired a PR firm for the opening of his new restaurant in the Hamptons on Long Island. Everything goes well until the firm starts providing counsel, as any good PR agency or PR professional should. Apparently, Mr. Buschel doesn’t take too kindly to market research and to counsel from the very professionals he hires to do just that.
 
Fast forward two weeks. After hundreds of commenters patiently tried to explain to him the very real, business value of public relations, Mr. Buschel still didn’t get it. He pens another blog post, this time condescendingly breaking down some rather good points from one commenter, and showing that he clearly had no intention of ever trying to understand public relations’ true business value.
 
But then he throws us all a 180. His last post on the subject, titled, “Arriving Late at the Social Media Party,” shows Mr. Buschel walking us through how many professionals, some of whom may even be one of you in the audience today, patiently helped him understand the new realities of public relations and marketing in the digital age — the fact that that dreaded word, “buzz,” means very little in a world where consumer sentiment can change hourly, if not instantly.

That means actually understanding what it is your customers want from your business, rather than what you think they want or, heaven forbid, what you want them to want, is one of the greatest modern marketing challenges facing businesses today.
 
In essence, these professionals who commented on the blog, were working pro bono, offering Mr. Buschel and his thousands of New York Times readers, the best counsel and perspective of public relations’ strategic business value one could ask for.
 
Let me sum up what the hundreds of comments boiled down to:
It’s no longer about you. It’s about them. It’s about what others want, desire and need from your business. And ranting and raving about how a PR firm that you hired doesn’t understand what it is that YOU want, but is trying to help you understand what THEY want, isn’t going to get YOU anywhere.
 
So what initially looked like another mass attack on the value of public relations, turned into a vast crowdsourced initiative of how public relations has stepped up to meet businesses modern communications challenges.
 
And that brings us to an interesting debate that has heated up in recent months within the industry: redefining what public relations is. What is the definition of our work? What do we do? And what value do we truly have?
Do your abuelos understand it? Heck, does your mami or papi understand it?
 
It’s a great question to ask, and one that many of my colleagues at PRSA have been exploring for quite some time. If you look at PRSA’s definition of public relations, what many consider the industry’s de facto definition, it says:

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

OK … that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly relevant in 2011. Or even in 1995. Perhaps that is because PRSA’s definition was established in 1982, and it hasn’t been updated since because we can’t find industry consensus on the definition. That’s right: what our industry uses to define its work is a concept that is now 30 years old.

Let me offer some perspective here. The last five years, let alone the past decade, have given rise to forms of communication that many of us never dreamed possible. Thus, the working definition of public relations has changed dramatically. What was once considered a form of "push" communications has now clearly evolved into a more prosperous and valuable two-way communication platform in which brands, organizations, governments, non-profits, NGOs, are able to communicate and engage directly with key audiences in a mutually beneficial manner.

What this all means is that it’s likely time we explore how we can modernize, revise and update this definition to meet today’s modern communications challenges our clients and employers face.
 
Many of my industry colleagues, some of you, perhaps, have thoughtfully debated for several weeks — months, maybe years? — what public relations truly means. What it means today, and more importantly, what it will need to mean tomorrow, five years from now and perhaps, 30 years down the road.
 
However, just like protests don't resolve policy questions, blog posts and endless talk don't resolve what is at its heart a complicated issue: redefining the essence of what we do. It is time to move past endless talk and start laying the groundwork for progress.
 
I keep coming back to this theme of meeting today’s modern business challenges because that is precisely what public relations professionals, marketing professionals, social media folks — you name it — must be doing in order to sustain our value to the business community and continue to develop innovative methods of helping businesses prosper.

It’s that simple … well, if only it really were.
 
Let’s bring it back to the Hispanic market. That’s why we’re all here, right? To learn more about how we can tap into this immensely rich, innovative and hungry market of 50-million-plus.
 
All of the talk over the past year, from blog posts, tweet chats to conferences like this has focused on just how lucrative the Hispanic market will be once the dust settles from the 2010 Census.
 
Will mainstream marketers finally wake up to the reality that there is an immense market in America that is waiting, actually, make that begging, to be leading?
 
They better. Because as my good friend Glenn Llopis is fond of saying, “Hispanics are the mainstream in America.”

Are we the same now as we were, say, 20 years ago, when Hispanic marketing leaped from novel concept to the market de jour? Not even close.  
 
I thought Hernan Lopez, president of Fox International Channels, said it best when he wrote recently in Advertising Age, that “This is not your abuela's Latino community of two decades ago. A new generation has emerged, with a new Latino DNA, and marketers who fail to decode it will struggle to survive.”

Many of those 50 million, and I count myself among them, are first- second-, third- or even fourth-generation immigrants. They come from families deeply rooted in their native culture. But somewhere along the way, Hispanics in America have changed. We have grown so quickly, and have been so eager to fit in with American business, that in many ways we’ve lost a part of our identity.

Again, I have to give all the credit to Glenn Llopis of the Center for Hispanic Leadership for really pushing this idea. Glenn and I became fast friends over this ideology.
 
We need to reclaim our identity, and stand firm behind it.
 
As communicators, this presents an incredible challenge. And yet, it’s also a powerful opportunity.We, and by we, I’m talking about marketing and public relations professionals … we must resolve to not resort to the lowest common denominator or the easy way out in our marketing to Hispanics.
 
It would be incredibly easy for us to merely allow Hispanic marketing and communications to stand still in time; to take the lowest common denominator. Almost as though we were stuck in 1990.
 
We must avoid this temptation. We must aspire to something greater; an earnest effort to continue innovating Hispanic marketing and public relations, to continue talking with Hispanics as though we are the new mainstream in America. Because we are.
 
And to tempt fate with a market as big as 50 million Americans and $1 trillion in annual spending power would be bad karma or mala suerte. Not to mention it’s just bad business.
 
You still have marketing that largely plays to stereotypical themes. That’s not to say all Hispanic marketing is like this, but I know from growing up as a global Hispanic, who moved to America to attend high school, the Hispanic marketing that came from big American corporations in the 80s wasn’t exactly what you would call enlightening.
 
And it wasn’t anything close to the type of iconic marketing that mainstream American audiences saw in English-language media.
 
Things started to turn around in the mid-1990s. An upsurge of agencies focusing on Hispanics, combined with powerhouse TV networks Univision and Telemundo coming into their own, helped communicators realize that simply dubbing over American commercials with lousy Spanish wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Maybe we shouldn’t have expected anything more. After all, Hispanics were not the mainstream demographic in America 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, we were still a fast-rising segment, sure, but we were still lurking somewhere in the background. Every business knew it needed to get up-to-speed with the power of Hispanic marketing, but few were ready to jump all the way in pending conclusive data that clearly showed, “yes, this demographic is here to stay!”
 
It is far more powerful than we ever imagined.
 
Well, I’m here to tell you, that data has come. By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the 2010 Census data. And we all know the numbers. Add to that that advertising spending on Hispanic media is up 164 percent since 2001 to $3.88 billion. There are hundreds of Spanish-language TV and radio stations across the U.S. Thousands of publications and blogs dedicated to Hispanic audiences.
 
You need a little more proof? The beloved telenovela, “La Reina del Sur” — “Queen of the South” — is routinely beating English-language networks’ TV shows, averaging millions of viewers per night in 3 of the top 10 DMAs in the country. Imagine that: a show entirely in Spanish that airs primarily in America is beating English-language shows at their own game of attracting eyeballs, ad dollars and the coveted 18-to-34-year-old audience.
 
Put into greater perspective, the U.S. Hispanic population is now greater than all of Canada’s. And, we would be the fifth largest country in Europe.
 
Going back to my point earlier about not resorting to the lowest common denominator in our marketing to Hispanics, the easy thing to do would be to look at these numbers and think, “Gee, we should just keep doing what we’ve always been doing because it’s worked.”
 
But where would the fun be in that? And more importantly, what message would we be sending America’s newest mainstream demographic by essentially telling Hispanics that the status quo is good enough for us?
 
Katy Perry wouldn’t like it. She challenges to ignite the light, to be a firework, to show what we’re worth, to make them go “aw, aw, aw” as we shoot across the “sky, sky, sky.”
 
Maybe that’s not going to work. But then again we have social media.
 
Social Media's Presence — and Power — in the Hispanic Community
Despite the prevalence of white, non-Hispanic Caucasians on social media, a great migration is currently taking place within diverse cultures.

Whereas even 2 to 3 years ago, many non-white cultures preferred more traditional forms of marketing and communications, culturally-diverse demographics represent one of the fastest growing segments of social media.
 
A 2010 PRSA survey found that 36 percent of English-preferring Hispanics regularly used social networks.
All of which points to a marketplace for PR and marketing professionals that looks nothing like it did five years ago.
 
Marketing to diverse cultures, whether Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, etc., is a remarkably complex, and yet oddly simple, concept.

At the end of the day, everyone has similar human instincts to connect with each other; to relate to others’ experiences; to share in the excitement, the sorrow, the joy and the fear of life.
 
That transcends cultures, and it is at the heart of what makes public relations successful: reaching a variety of diverse audiences in ways that impact their lives and help them to connect with something meaningful and authentic to them and to their culture.
 
At the same time, reality tells us that there are vast cultural differences we must keep in mind when communicating with different cultures — whether via a press release, a TV interview or on Twitter.
 
As a Latina, I can tell you that the way I communicate with my Latina followers on Twitter is vastly different to how I would communicate with a culture that is more reserved -- or less affectionate. That’s all part of understanding, and more importantly, respecting, cultural differences in how we communicate.

Our communications need to stand for something more. We need to be the generation of Hispanic communicators that sets the tone for the level of creativity and innovation that will define diverse marketing for generations to come. We need to be the next generation of Shakiras.
 
There is a responsibility
< back

You must be logged in to view this item.




This area is reserved for members of the news media. If you qualify, please update your user profile and check the box marked "Check here to register as an accredited member of the news media". Please include any notes in the "Supporting information for media credentials" box. We will notify you of your status via e-mail in one business day.