Public relations in WV Means shifting, shining - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Public relations in WV Means shifting, shining

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The world of public relations and marketing is nothing if not fluid.

"I think a decade ago we would have said the biggest change was the 24-hour news cycle. That was something we certainly had to adjust to," said PRSA-WV Chapter President Jeri Matheney. "Now one of the trends we're dealing with is social media, and the importance of it, how you need to interact differently with your customers because of it, and in some ways it removes the barrier of the media and you can talk to customers more."

PRSA-WV awards committee chairman John Womack agreed and stressed the importance of a social media presence.

"A company is going to be on social media whether they want to be or not," Womack explained. "It's a question of whether they control it or whether they let upset, questioning customers do it for them. One way or another they will be on social media."

Womack said another shift has been the industries represented in West Virginia.

"I think you've got a big trend right now for the oil and gas industry becoming very active in public relations," he said. "At the same time, I think, you've got a trend where coal is becoming less and less active.

"You look at our Crystal entries this year, and there's nothing from anybody connected to the coal industry, but you've got oil and gas industry entries from three or four different agencies."

And the tourism field is becoming more crowded, too.

"They're becoming more and more active on their PR activities, in-state and out-of-state, where that used to be something that was owned by the (West Virginia) Department of Commerce, now you've got a lot of the local convention and visitors bureaus doing things," he said. "And that's a good trend for everybody."

West Virginia's small size opens up opportunities for marketing professionals as well.

"A lot of times we have smaller staffs, so you do more different kinds of things," Matheney said. "It's a great place to try out lots of different skill sets. That's definitely one of the advantages."

PRSA-WV Executive Director Diane Slaughter pointed out that a lot of West Virginia's public relations practitioners do so alone. But their output is mighty.

Slaughter said looking at the number of awards, the state is in the 150 range, which is in the same company as Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Richmond. She said that ranking exceeds Cleveland, Hawaii, Columbus, Pittsburgh and the entire state of Arkansas as well as the entire state of Colorado.

"We have about 100 members," she said. "Los Angeles has 550, Philadelphia's got 550, and they're producing the same number of awards we have."

Womack credited the many good college programs throughout the state, the out-of-state students who decide to stay and the talented natives who wouldn't want to go anywhere else.

The pros say West Virginia's small size also keeps the competition from being too cut-throat.

"The whole state is a small town, it seems, and we all know each other, in more than one context sometimes, so we need to get along and we do get along," Matheney said.

Slaughter explained that many of West Virginia's PR professionals do work for organizations and causes that are easy to get behind.

"So Jeri may find herself on a committee with Linda Arnold or Susan Lavenski with CRA or George Manahan," she said.

But Womack said the respectful, collegiate attitude the practitioners have is reflective of the state's entire market.

"We're not to the point where all the good accounts are taken," he said. "It's not like if I want a good account I've got to steal it.

"There's some movement of accounts through agencies, but most of the agencies also realize there are a lot of accounts out there that aren't accounts yet."