Questions for the PR Industry: Shonali Burke

Each month we have been reaching out to notable communications professionals to ask them a few questions about their experiences and interests, with the goal of providing some insights to others in the industry. June’s edition of ‘Questions for the PR Industry’ features Shonali Burke, a CEO, social PR strategist, founder and curator of the #measurePR Twitter chat, faculty member at The Johns Hopkins University, and teacher at Rutgers University.

PK3UapvwShonali Burke
Social PR strategist




Can you explain a little bit about what it means to be a ‘social PR strategist?’ What inspired you to focus in this area?

What I find so powerful about social technologies is the way they allow us to connect instantly, often instantaneously, with our audiences and stakeholders. That point of connection is the point of PR, if you think about it: building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with our publics (the classic definition of PR).

What started happening with PR, though, is that we – and by that I mean the industry in general – forgot that conversation and community are indispensable when it comes to relationships. You can’t have a relationship with someone if you’re not talking to them, and that holds true just as much for organizational relationships as personal ones.

With social, you can really bring the conversation back. That’s what I love about Social PR, and why I was drawn to it; that when you really focus on building strong communities with whom you are in constant contact and conversation, you energize and motivate them to tell your stories for you. And that is the most powerful form of PR.

What is your preferred form of PR measurement? Why?

Our PR programs and campaigns have to support business objectives. So that’s where we need to start; at the end, identifying what it is we hope to accomplish. If you work backwards from your target goals, and do a halfway decent assessment of the landscape as it stands, then you can’t help but start to think strategically about your work.

Once you know what it is you’re trying to achieve, and how you’re going to work towards it, then you automatically start to identify how you’ll track your progress. And that is how I build measurement into anything I do; whether it’s for clients, or for my own business and initiatives such as my online course. As an industry we need to focus much more on outcome metrics; far too many are still stuck in the output phase.

What is your favourite piece of advice that you give to your students about working in the PR industry?

Make friends with measurement (far too many PR pros, and those entering the industry, still shy away from it). It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you need to know what you’re working towards.

Strengthen your writing skills; being a versatile writer will take you far.

Get involved with your community, with professional development associations. You’ll be amazed at not just how much you learn, but how your network will grow and help you over the years. And don’t join, do nothing, and then complain; you’ll get back what you put in.

Remember to breathe. PR isn’t “rocket science,” but it’s still pretty stressful, because it’s part art, part science. Work hard. Be nice. And don’t ever let anyone tell you PR is a crappy job. You may not be on the front lines, literally saving lives, but what you do is incredibly important, because you chip away at barriers to communication, which makes for a better world.

Thank you, Shonali!

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