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Public Relations Expert Don Middleberg

The Internet has revolutionized just about everything. Find out what it's done to change the world of public relations.
February 19, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/37830

Winning PR in the Wired World If your idea of running a public relations campaign means sending truckloads of press releases out to various news organizations, then it's time to wake up and smell that stale office coffee. The digital age is revolutionizing the way PR is done, and in short, papa's got a brand new bag. We spoke with Don Middleberg, chairman and CEO of public relations agency Middleberg Euro and author of Winning PR in the Wired World, about what the changing face of public relations means to entrepreneurs today.

Entrepreneur.com: You stress the importance of having a "well-oiled, highly resourceful public relations machine." What does that look like in real life?

Don Middleberg: The role of public relations has changed from being a provider of press releases and photo-op type events to really being a marketing partner where public relations firms are providing market research and competitive image analysis. It can [now] include more interactive marketing, where whole divisions are set up to find ways to get people to visit Web sites. PR agencies have evolved from being press representatives doing some very elementary and basic press work to being a very sophisticated part of the marketing process. [Entrepreneurs] should make sure their agency has broad capabilities that go way beyond just media placement work.

"PR agencies have evolved from being press representatives doing some very elementary and basic press work to being a very sophisticated part of the marketing process. [Entrepreneurs] should make sure their agency has broad capabilities that go way beyond just media placement work."

Entrepreneur.com: A company's online image is an important concern these days. What does an entrepreneur need to do to be prepared to successfully combat problems that could damage their company's image?

Middleberg: First, [you have to] have a plan. That plan anticipates types of crises that might come around so that should they hit, you already [have] a way to manage them. Second, monitor the news media. Monitor what's going on on Web sites, chat groups, the digital space and broadcasts. It's kind of like sending a scout out on an advance mission. It's having that kind of information, making reasonable evaluations about that information and then acting on it quickly.

Entrepreneur.com: One of the "four fast rules of communicating in the digital age" is "Buzz is everything." What is the significance of buzz and how can it contribute to a successful PR campaign?

Middleberg: Buzz is the ability to get people to talk about your product or service in a way that's independent of media relations or any other special activity. Buzz is very difficult to create, but once you have it, you know. It's associated with movies, new products, new technologies, and successful firms that have been able to build a lot of anticipation and excitement about what's coming out.

Entrepreneur.com: You acknowledge the role the Internet plays and will continue to play in globalization. How will that affect public relations?

Middleberg: It's already having a major impact. Clients-particularly those involved with the wired world-can easily promote themselves through a single Web site, all across the world. So how that Web site is promoted, the type of content you put on it and the kinds of press releases [you send] out can now all be done in a single, one-shot operation that impacts people around the world. You're no longer operating in a particular county, city or state. If you're operating on the Net, you're operating on a global basis, so you'd better get a PR firm that understands that.

Entrepreneur.com: What about the debate over using advertising vs. public relations?

Middleberg: There's no controversy in the wired world. Advertising hasn't worked, banner ads don't work, and ad agencies are going back to traditional media to promote digital companies. The winner, in terms of the best form of communications, is clearly public relations, followed by some interactive messaging, e-mail programs and things of that sort. Public relations is designed for conveying content as opposed to images, and the Net is about the quality of the content. If you have a business you want to promote online, go to the public relations agency first.