Four Reasons Why PR People Need to Know WordPress

I got decent feedback to a tweet this morning on my point that PR people should all know WordPress, and was pushed for a little more background. So, here you go, four reasons why PR People Need to Know WordPress (excuse the list and superlative style headline, if you would).

1. Someone You Need to Convince of Your Value Uses WordPress

WordPress is almost certainly in the bag of tricks of journalists at publications of all types and sizes. Even the traditional mainstays and some broadcast organizations leave the WordPress black bar to indicate that it is the CMS running their world (Time and NESN are just the first two that comes to mind for me). For journalists, especially if they’ve been in J-school recently, self-publishing has long been part of the curriculum – they aren’t afraid of the blinking cursor and the  publish button, in fact, they more than likely are uploading their posts into WordPress themselves and not having a webmaster typeset them.

You may never get into a conversation with a journo about how they use WordPress (I vividly only remember one, and that was about whether or not it’s good-practice to draft in WordPress…which I’m totally doing right now), but you should keep in mind that they have a mentality of publishing themselves and working within the limits of the online-editor-space. For example, WordPress doesn’t play nicely with java-based embed codes – so if you are asking for a reporter to include a video, make sure it’s on YouTube where there are multiple ways of embedding. WordPress also is fickle when it comes to images that aren’t hosted on the same website as the CMS, so make sure to provide a file, not a link to where the photo may be elsewhere on the Web so that the reporter can upload it.

It’s not just media websites, though, that implore you to know about WordPress. Far beyond just blogs, WordPress is the tool that manages the entire site for many different types of organizations. If you’re going to be savvy about a client’s website, content on its pages and the underlying analytics that manage them all, understanding that it was built on WordPress could make you an additional asset to the team. More on this later.

2. You Can Use WordPress Like a DuoLingo for the Language of Online Journalism

Like ancient Latin, no one speaks HTML or writes it from hand anymore these days, but its structure and core are essential to everything that is behind the words and numbers you see on the screen. PR people will never need to draft a full page from <head> to </html> or even take their crack at reading source code or a Dreamweaver build, but as it sits at the root of the Internet we play on every day, knowing where those things are and what they mean can be invaluable. The most important that comes to mind is the syntax that WordPress creates, how to read the URL itself as the new headline to gain information about the date and post without even clicking  through (aside, I’m sad that it’s been this long since I’ve written here – the example is my last post on this blog):

url syntax

Using WordPress’s visual editor takes some of the wonder out of writing code, but it is helpful in telling you the key information that you want to consider. One step further, it may help you figure out whether or not you have enough information to make something compelling. Including a link? WordPress compels you to add a title tag when adding it to text or an image – information that not everyone will see, but a perfectly good test for you to say, “Is this valid enough that the information stands on its own or does it need more context to be explainable?” You don’t need to <a href> it yourself, but it’s there to guide you to good practice.

3. Wordpress Teaches Old Dogs New Tricks

Understanding the system means also knowing how it can be manipulated and what you can learn without ever having to write code, as well. The fast list of what you can learn simply by logging into a site’s /wp-admin:

  • Stats like views, referring sites and top content
  • Dashboard style search to find where something is on the website (as opposed to the external-facing on-site search)
  • Revision history and staged pages (at one point in my life, I had a Mashable contributor log-in and man, was that fun)

Those are basics, but to me the fun is in what else you can learn can be changed within a post. Posts and pages can be left in draft and/or scheduled for other times – the moment something is published isn’t necessarily the moment it was written or drafted. That’s important to know because a reporter who hands off their piece to be published by an editor may not be the first one with the link, and if you’re tracking coverage that’s timely, waiting for a note back from your contact that it’s live isn’t always going to be reliable.

Additionally, there are things to know about those URL-syntax tricks, for they too can be manipulated. Take this example from the New York Times:

NYT breaks syntax

URLs play a part in SEO, but headlines (especially if you like the NYT style of passive voice, burying the important part) don’t always play along. WordPress and its ilk allow you to change the URL without altering the other text, so that you can play nice with Google and have your artsy style. It’s worth noting that I used the number instead of the word in the slug for this post.

4. WordPress Will be the Battleground of the Digital vs PR Agency

As mentioned earlier, many organizations (the type of people we would all call clients or prospective clients) very well may have built their websites on the back of WordPress. As Owned Media and Earned Media come together, being able to raise your hand to your client and tell them you have the know-how to jump into their website and upload that coverage you just earned is a great way to stay involved and show off a little more of what you can do for them. In a customer service industry, which is what we are, the little things add up.

For the bottom line of the business, though, WordPress (and, much more categorically, company websites no matter how they are technically built, which is how I’d recommend taking all this advice) is a battle front we might be about to engage in even more as PR pros. Digital agencies that built their reputation building these types of sites look at what we do and are coming after the opportunity to build on the convergence of owned and earned, as well. They have a small advantage, too, as the gatekeepers to the metrics and analytics that we want to show PR’s value and its impact on the business and leads beyond clicks and pageviews. If you want to make friends with the IT or tech team that’s doing the build, it wouldn’t hurt if you are to speak their language.

Self-preservation in PR will be adding digital in as part of the social/traditional integrated pro. WordPress is a more helpful tool for that than you could ever imagine.


One Comment on “Four Reasons Why PR People Need to Know WordPress”

  1. This is great advice and it can be translated across nearly any CMS. Something to think about, especially when you talk about enterprise websites, is there are a number of factors that could dictate the selection of a CMS. The first and perhaps most important question will be: What technology framework does the IT department support? At CEA, our IT team focuses on .NET, so WordPress and other popular CMS products are off the table. Every organization will be different.

    The important thing to realize is, no matter what CMS you use, you should be doing what Dave suggests above in terms of taking advantage of all its capabilities. I’m not much of a coder but I look at code multiple times a day. If something is broken like fonts, I go to the code. Often specific words will be assigned styles that you can’t fix unless you go under the hood. I check webpage metadata to make sure the right titles and descriptions are there, especially if a preview is rendering incorrectly when you link to an article on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. Twitter Cards, Open Graph). If something is broken, I sometimes need to read code to explain to developers what the problem is.

    Beyond just knowing code, it’s important to understand how a website works, that way you can offer solutions (even if they won’t work) when you present a problem or change you would like to make. Do you want to do a NY Times-style feature like Snowfall? To be successful, you’re going to need to understand that could be build in your environment.

    If I were giving PR agencies advice, I’d tell them dedicate resources to technology and good coding and focus on the IT department. They are the gatekeepers who in the end enable a cool idea to become reality.

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