PRSA President Mary Scheibel on the future of PR

Interview by Jenna Kashou

Welcome to the new blog for PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin, which will focus on news from the chapter, social media and the future of public relations.

For our first blog we interviewed Southeastern Wisconsin PRSA President Mary Scheibel, who provides her perspective from 30 years of PR experience. She started her career with The Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago, and in 1991 she founded Scheibel Halaska.

In this interview, Mary discusses how she uses social media for business and personal, what changes the game, and what will never change.

Q: How have you seen social media change public relations practices?

A: The ability for people to generate content and participate directly in the news process really changes the game. Social media is the wave of the future and people need to embrace it. It’s important to learn how to take advantage of social media as a critical component in an integrated strategy.

Q: How has PRSA responded to and implemented social media?

A: We have been able to bring together a very dynamic social media committee that is sending tweets from our Twitter account ahead of and at meetings and uploading videos of presenters. We are also using social media as a primary communications tool to share information about the industry and chapter events.

From an educational standpoint, several of our programs have been focused on teaching our members how to best utilize social media and how to integrate social media into best practices for web, SEO and more. We also encourage members to follow reporters online and help them with story leads.

The March 25th meeting will focus on how reporters are using social media and how PR practitioners can use it for their clients and their agencies. There will be practical advice that everyone can take away and apply to their business practices.

Q: What social media tools do you use the most for business and which are the most effective?

A: Scheibel Halaska is primarily a B2B firm, so using social media is a bit different than on the consumer side. We are, however, building social media into our clients’ programs and leading by example. SH has a twitter account, a blog, a Facebook fan page and a LinkedIn group.

Our goal is to tweet a minimum of three times a week, but more actively when we have relevant information to share. Last week we attended a conference for international PR practitioners so we tweeted much more frequently. We strive to maintain a consistent presence, although our biggest focus is on relevant content. We do lots of linking, re-tweeting and driving content to our blog.

We follow reporters for all our clients, looking for story opportunities and ways we can help the media generate news.

Q: Do you use social media for personal use?

A: I have a Facebook page and like to share pictures of my granddaughter with friends and family. My son got married in La Paz, Mexico (his wife’s hometown) last fall, so Facebook was an important communications tool.

My husband John, who is the CEO of Scheibel Halaska, is one of the most tuned in people around. He never just watches TV anymore. John will follow different news feeds online while things happen.

As a board member of IPREX, an international association of PR practitioners, he’s constantly getting perspectives from people online around the world. He is able to bring European soccer fans into our living room! It adds a whole other dimension.

Q: What do you feel are some of the most common misconceptions about social media?

A: I think there are two primary misperceptions – one that social media is just a fad and conversely that social media is “everything.” It’s also a misconception that you can’t generate a return on the B2B side. The smart companies are learning how to use it effectively.

I also think that as Facebook becomes a more important business tool as well as a social tool, people will start to be more discriminatory on who they have as friends and take better care of their reputations.

Q: With all the changes brought by social media what sorts of things do you think will stay the same?

A: Social media will not replace face to face communications. Advertising will continue to have its place.

Trust and credibility will always be paramount and hopefully we will never get away from ethics. As it shifts more and more to user generated content, trust and integrity of the author will come into play more.

People that I’ve talked to believe that the market will correct itself. If someone is being dishonest online, his or her fan base will diminish. Because of the speed of the medium, people will spread the word about him/her quickly.

People are always hungry for good credible sources. That will always remain.

Q: What do you think the PRSA chapter will look like in five years? How will social media change the landscape?

A: We are building a very robust chapter and have a strong group of dedicated volunteers. Our goal is to have a robust PR community that has a positive impact:

  1. On our members and their careers
  2. Through our members, on the companies/organizations they work for
  3. In the community-at-large

I am seeing that happen in a lot of different ways. Social media will help us better understand and stay on top of what members need and want. It can enhance our value to members by allowing us to better connect members and share best practices.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice given to you about social media?

A: Be thoughtful. Understand what your goals and objectives are as an individual and for your business. Incorporate social medial and be strategic about how you use it.

Don’t be afraid to get involved. A lot of people are entering social media slowly. It’s OK to step into and move forward at pace that works for you.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: As PR practitioners, our greatest value to clients is in providing good, strategic counsel. Good ideas, good writing, good strategy – those are the things that require focus and concentrated thinking. My greatest concern is that we don’t become so tactical that we diminish our real value.

We have to careful with our time and how much of it is spent on social media. We can’t just replace research and analytical thinking with copying and pasting Google alerts.

How do we make sure we are still taking time to think and focus? Maintaining that balance is ever so challenging yet ever so important.