We know things are in flux at the moment — economically, and, as a result, in our way of life. My personal take is that we're not going back to the way things were. There's an evolution, which crises accelerate. It would happen anyway, just more organically.
The one thing that social media has done for several professions, and, done with that, for businesses next, is bring about an upset in who has a seat at the conversation table. Take the "social media consultant" inflation out of it for a moment — soon the term will come to have the same connotation as "used car salesperson" anyway, with all due respect to both roles.
Customers have more of a seat at the service and product table. I think we can agree that employees who might not have had the opportunity to weigh in because too low on the organization chart now have more of a seat at the decision table. And so on.
Instead of seeing this change as a threat, we should welcome the opportunity to design better professions and organizations. Which is the case with PR and communications. It's not surprising that even smart marketers see PR's role as either of guard dog or placement genius.
PR professionals need to confront what scares them the most, because it is exactly what they should do. Chris Koch is right in his observation, and you should make him wrong.
PR doesn't equal press release
It doesn't equal publicity, it's not just about protecting things like reputation and information. Maybe at some point it used to be that way. A brand, an organization, an executive are what a brand, an organization, an executive do. Period.
There are things you can do when they're not writing about your story, below the table I suppose you could engage an SEO shop… I'm writing more about going direct with PR to build relationships with community stakeholders, for example.
We discussed how PR can expand on an organization's story only a short couple of weeks ago, as another example. And becoming a useful filter — and I would add also translator — is what communicators do best. Those activities can earn an organization influence.
Maybe I had an easier time seeing the possibilities for public relations because I was never indoctrinated into the way things are done in PR. I found myself thrust into it and went with the flow — listening to the needs of both members of the media and those of the ultimate customers, theirs and ours.
The "way things were" thinking covers why PR is misapplied.
Why PR is misunderstood
Marketing is afflicted by a similar way of thinking. If PR does have a perception problem, part of which it contributed to creating, given its origin as propaganda, so does marketing.
With social media as new territory to claim, it's not unusual for the two groups to fight over who owns it in a similar way as they fought for attention at the top of organizations.
Part of the reason why PR is misunderstood is its inability to move away from press clippings as a way to measure impact — yeah, even sophisticated online placements are press clippings. Looking at media and journalists as the only audience is another big issue.
Not learning the business is another miss.
Areas of opportunity
For communicators and PR professionals to move the perception needle, they need to start moving the results needle inside and outside organizations. Some areas of opportunity I see are:
- developing community relations further — not just doing community moderation online
- putting the public back into PR measurement — not just reporting on online clippings
- building an online platform for the organization — not just working on articles
- listening and learning from negative sentiment to help address issues — not just to cover up the issues they find
- learning about areas of opportunity for dialogue from people's behaviors — not just starting with the message
PR professionals and communicators need to step up their game. The profession is facing change or irrelevance, just like every other. Understanding why it is misunderstood is a first step in not misapplying valuable skills. Because that's how we've always done it is no longer a good excuse, if it ever was.