Last night I was lucky enough to attend a NMK panel discussing the notion “The PR industry has lost its capability to lead clients in a New Media landscape.”
It was very interesting, although I think the venue unfortunately lead to a slightly closed ‘debate’ and fundamental problems with things like being able to see and/or hear some of the speakers.
The Oxford-style debate format was good with Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar and James Warren who is Head of Digital at Weber Shandwick opposing Anthony Mayfield of i-crossing and Roger Warner of Content and Motion.
All the speakers had a few minutes to explain their view on the notion although their inability to truly define PR in a modern context meant that many of the points were a little vague and slightly irrelevant. To spoil the ending, the conclusion from the audience was ambiguous, but swayed towards the opposition. I think it is fair to say that, like any good debate should, the event raised more questions than it answered, but hearing the various and occasionally quirky views about the future of PR was fascinating.
I have listened back to the debate again this morning and I thought I would share my thoughts about it.
I think that much of the debate was restricted by an inability to truly define what PR is. Roger Warner argued that PR these days is mainly Press Relations and not Public Relations, but I would argue that this is another dated definition. I do agree that Public Relations is maybe the wrong thing to call the industry post technology, but I think that Media Relations is no longer an important aspect of the job, and I predict that it will actually become less and less important as time goes on.
The internet is changing everything and I did feel there was a feeling of confusion and resentment in place of excitement and optimism about the industry. To be bold, I think that traditional PR is no longer needed. When it first began, in the 1900s, Edward Louis Bernays was promoting brands and business in a place where word of mouth didn’t have much sway and people looked to magazines and newspapers to find out latest information. That day has past.
If people want to know what is going on they have direct access to the source. If I want to know what is going on with Innocent, I don’t need to wait for the newspapers – I can sign up to their news feeds and browse their website. I can even speak with someone senior within the company, personally, on Twitter. This is where new PR or ‘Interactive Relations’ comes in; helping companies to speak directly with their audience and alerting an audience to the company.
One of the people in the audience at the debate said: “we still look in the papers and magazines for products first and then check them out on the Internet so we simply have to make sure our strategies are all inclusive”. Well I beg to differ. I don’t think anyone looks to magazines now. The old way was that companies give stories to the PR companies, who give stories to the press, who then give people the stories. Now people find the companies and provide stories for the press. Public Relations was an industry talking at an audience. We need to adapt and become Interactive Relations instead, talking directly with target audiences to give them the best of what they are looking for and not the press at all really (sorry press).
One audience member, who shall remain anonymous, said that “The internet is just another channel”, which I think is a ridiculous statement. The internet has fundamentally changed both the public and the way that we can form relations with them, thus changing Public Relations entirely.
People used to only listen to bands on major labels, but now we take huge pleasure in seeking out a great independent band and showing it off to our friends. If no one has heard of the band, word of mouth will soon change that and all record labels really do is manage and distribute (and even that is changing).
I think it is now getting like that with brands too. If a good company is found, happy customers twitter/blog and shout about it, and as this positivity snowballs it has a better long term affect than a mention in a trade magazine, which brings me onto my next point: PR can’t fake it.
In the old days a good PR company would take one brand of bacon and show it to the public who had no way of accessing hundreds for comparison. The old public would trust that this is the best one and buy this bacon. The new public don’t need this. They will find the best bacon themselves and this is the monumental change that will end the industry if the industry refuses to evolve.
I enjoyed the debate greatly and I think some of the questions which have arisen as a result of the discussion show that the industry is perhaps changing faster than the mindsets of those who work within it. The debate opened my eyes to an industry which is not as excited as it should be about change, and many companies who are maybe failing to evolve and accept the fact that a lot of new skills will be needed to navigate this ever changing terrain. My personal conclusion is “down with Public Relations, long live Interactive Relations”. Let’s make a change and start a revolution.