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The Best PR Lessons I Learned in 2017

And the best campaigns combine all of these strategies!

This was an interesting year for me professionally — I spent the first six months as an in-house communications director, and the last six back on the client services side. I thought I was prepared for what it would be like to return to client work, but a lot has changed in the last several years since I’ve been in-house. Here are a few of my key learnings in 2017, which I find also hold true to the state of public relations in general.

1. Clients expect you to be ahead of the curve.

There’s a different expectation when someone is paying good money for your services — they believe (and deserve!) unique and creative ideas. That means keeping up on your PR game by monitoring for the latest trends in the industry, staying on your professional development, and pushing yourself (and your clients) to think outside of their comfort zone. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this challenge!

2. Social media HAS to be part of your communications strategy.

Social media was once an afterthought of my clients — as most gauged their success solely on traditional media — but in 2017, you can’t succeed without a solid social strategy as part of your campaign. And it isn’t just about drafting posts to be shared on your channels anymore — it’s thinking through the best way to deliver your messages (with scheduling content and enlisting the assistance of third-party organizations to share your messages); tracking it (with hashtags, monitoring, and social listening tools); and building your brand identity (with honesty, loyalty and trust). If you do all of those things, then you’re #winning!

3. Digital advertising — once a foe, now a friend.

I didn’t see the value of digital advertising before, but now I’m a true believer! A few months ago, I was listening to a presentation by an industry colleague where she explained how digital advertising works by “how your shoes follow you” (albeit a little creepy when the shoes you just looked at on Macy’s online end up in your Facebook feed!). But geo-targeting is an amazing thing, and I’ve seen firsthand how much it has helped my clients. One client even used it to influence doctors to weigh in on new medical guidelines, and the ad campaign worked! If money allows, the ROI is well worth it.

I like to think that most of the time!

4. Media relations ain’t what it used to be.

OK, I’ll admit I had gotten a little spoiled when it came to doing media relations in-house. Calling media as a member of two well-known universities made my job pretty easy. As long as what I was selling was compelling, I could count on a call back and decent media coverage. It’s a whole other ball of wax being back on the client services side — especially when there are 5,000 or more LESS journalists then when I last worked at an agency. Expectations are still high for traditional media coverage, but most clients realize they need to be creative in getting out their messages by utilizing different platforms. And to be successful at media relations nowadays, you need to make sure you offer your story in a complete package — with images, videos, written content, etc. The easier you can make it for overworked journalists, the more successful you will be.

5. Content is (still) king.

And with all that being said, good content still reigns supreme. Sharing words and pictures that are compelling, innovative, or offer “news you can use” will always be in demand. Content marketing — a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online — continues to be on the rise and is another effective way to deliver your message. And for goodness sake, don’t take yourself and your content too seriously! Cat pictures, gifs and memes continue to be popular, especially on social media channels. At Sacramento State, our most widely viewed pictures on the university’s Facebook and Instagram were the campus squirrels and turkeys. You can be respected, and have a personality.

That’s all I have to share for now — thanks for your time to read this post and feel free to share your 2017 learnings with me below. Happy holidays!

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Elisa Smith

Elisa Smith


First shift: PR professional | Second shift: Wife and boy mom | Find me at: