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By on March 4, 2009 in Uncategorized with 14 Comments »

I recently engaged in a lengthy Twitter dialogue (as lengthy as that gets) with Robert French, @rdfrench , an insightful teacher of public relations at Auburn University.  Our topic?  The biggest changes occurring in PR during the past ten years.

His question got me thinking.  We read every day about another newspaper or magazine calling it quits, as traditional publishing struggles to create a sustainable business model in this brave new world of social media.  Print and broadcast media have been segmented, de-fragmented, and literally co-opted by new media tools, technologies, and platforms.  Readers and viewers do everything from create and interact with content via blogs, YouTube, vlogs, Flickr, Twitter, Digg, et al, to control where and how they view content both online or off, via Tivo, Hulu, and the rest.  You literally can’t keep up, no matter how fast you’re tweetin.’

My take? PR hasn’t changed nearly enough in the past decade.  PR should be leading its own industry evolution to adapt to the wild, wild west of social media.  Are we doing enough?  The old rules no longer apply.

As an old-school PR vet, I began my career building contact databases consisting of thousands of reporters, editors, and producers… clearly, the ground has shifted under our feet.  The shift happened subtly, yet with profound implications for the PR business.  Does it still make sense to use news releases as a core tool of outreach?  If real-time, personal communication blasted out 24/7 in the form of mobile data is now the norm, should we still focus our resources and priorities on how media used to function in producing news content for our society?  

Today’s social media environment demands collaboration and engagement with your audiences.  Often directly, no media required.  There are great examples of pioneering new efforts to inform and mobilize the grassroots via social media.  Witness the Obama campaign.  Ditto for boutique PR agencies forging new paths, whether harnessing social media for clients (@TDefren at SHIFT Communications, @briansolis at FutureWorks) or achieving remarkable success as “virtual” operations  (@missusP at PerkettPR).  This ain’t your grandfather’s PR, kids.

As the latest imbroglio over Skittles’ home-page-cum-Twitter-newsfeed experiment attests, one can always get attention.  In the old world, all publicity was good publicity.  By that measure, Skittles’ execution was brilliant.  By today’s standards… it’s a lot less clear.  PR practitioners need to cede control.  Accept that “engaging” may be the new PR, as much or more so than educating and influencing.  How about focusing on helping clients create and produce original content, whether blogs or otherwise? Craft stories designed for them to interact directly with their customers via social media.  Help them identify whom to target in social media conversations, how, where, when and why.  In short, facilitate and enable conversations. Then get out of the way.

Would love to see some of the behemoths in the PR industry (you know who you are) take a leadership role in re-defining PR for this new era of communication and marketing.  Not by attaching a “new/social media” arm or other reactionary move, but by reconstructing the business with social media integrated at its core.  We’ve made progress, but still have a long way to go.    Who knows, maybe we’ll even improve and evolve our own image as a profession in the process. 

What are your ideas for the new PR?