One of the topics I’m currently obsessed with is the future of public relations. As such, I’ll offer a brief-round up of some of the recent content I’ve come across on this issue.
Rob Brown, who is currently running for CIPR President, was just one of the latest to ask ‘Does PR need an overhaul‘?
For the record I’m not about to an embark on a “print media is dead, social is the saviour” diatribe. Too often the debate is hi-jacked by social media snake-oil sellers who tell you that a Facebook fan page is a a strategy. But much of the PR profession needs to wake up and fast. Print is declining, in numbers, pagination and breadth of content. The media landscape is shifting.
The PR profession needs to adapt to create content that is valid across a broader range of media and we need to know how to drive people to that content. We now also have the opportunity to create our own spaces on-line.
I would incidentally, be wholeheartedly voting for Rob but unfortunately, voting is not open to affiliate members. But if you can vote and aren’t sure, watch the CIPR TV debate in case you still need to be convinced.
His warning of the snake-oil sellers is warranted. Although there is a great need to understand social media and SEO, when it gets hijacked by aggressive commercial ‘gurus’ (shudder) yelling about obscure metrics, it’s enough to put anyone off.
Last week, Richard Edleman gave a talk (pdf) at the Institute of PR (who I confess, I haven’t come across before). He calls for public engagement to become the standard for the PR industry. One of the four principles suggests is ‘take full advantage of democratised media’:
Our greatest challenge today is deciding where to begin telling a story.
There are four distinct, but related, types of media today:
- social, and
Imagine them as a four-leaf clover.
- In the first leaf, mainstream, we have the traditional delivery vehicles of print or broadcast.
- In the second leaf, hybrid, are the dot.com versions of traditional media and media that is born digital like the Huffington Post.
- The third leaf, social, includes Facebook, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels.
- The fourth leaf, owned, includes a brand or company’s websites and apps — vitally important because every company should be a media company [my italics].
Some have been a bit more dramatic in evaulting the future for PR, claiming that it will die or be replaced by something new. Rick Guttridge writes the obituary while looking forward to the next chapter – storytelling:
Great storytelling has always been central to great public relations. But the difference is now there’s no telling what can happen once Joe Public gets his status updates into your carefully honed key messages. As such the emphasis must be placed not just on the context within which content is published or publicised, but also the consistency, creativity, and coherency of a message across all media, social, traditional or other. With that in mind, and a nod of respect to the old guard generalists, it’s time to embrace this specialist future of niche thinkers.
Because in an age where standing still always means falling behind it’s vitally important to understand that we’ve changed the way we think, the way we operate, and the skillset we require from our staff. The end result is that PR jobseekers should be increasingly aware that a degree in public relations may not be the best route to industry success. PR is dead, long live storytelling.
The main points which keep cropping are seem to be engaging with users directly using your own content (rather than relying simply on media coverage), using your own spaces online and telling stories in whatever means works best for your audience and message.
For those who claim that PR is too influential in the current media landscape, one possible, partial-refutation of that argument is that the sector is very much playing catch-up with some of the big mainstream media outlets when it comes to social and digital media, UCG and developing online communities. Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times, recently gave a talk at the LSE on his paper’s digital transformation, and the transcript is available. He gives a smattering of examples – the #911plus20 hastag and live coverage of presidential debates.
I haven’t been in this industry very long, and I don’t claim to have a deep theoretical or practical knowledge of it. I’m also coming from an in-house, higher education perspective, rather than that of a commercial agency. But I’m not sure that shift from focusing on traditional media to our users – our communities – has got very far down the line so far, so it’s good to remind ourselves what people are saying out there.
(This plethora of posts comes courtesy of Evernote. Since I’ve set it up on every device I own or have access to, it’s become this super-index of anything interesting I come across, be it cycling routes, social media discussions or essays on the environment. Can’t recommend it enough, especially if like me, you relied on emailing things to yourself for reading later).