Big PR firm falls for the PR 2.0 hype

For some time I’ve been talking to clients and potential clients about PR 2.0. It’s a good way for a small technology PR consultancy like BMA PR to differentiate itself and attract attention. However, after getting noticed I then always point out what a stupid idea PR 2.0 is. This whole PR 2.0 or ‘New PR’ is such a pile of garbage. What I’m doing is simply an evolution of what I’ve always done. For a fuller and excellent explanation see this post on PR Opinions by Tom Murphy, Microsoft Ireland’s PR chief.

Back in the late 80s when I was studying for my CAM Diploma in Public Relations we were taught all about PR being a two way process. That’s why real PR people are far better placed than the advertising folks to participate in social media because it’s always been about conversations. Sadly I’ll admit that too many PR people still can’t think beyond press relations and a company newsletter.

It’s the same as all the rubbish that’s talked about how to ‘pitch’ a blog. One of the radical ideas often suggested is read the blog and try to understand the author. Sorry guys but that is exactly what decent PR people have always done with journalists and the media. My next task this morning is to pitch a couple of ideas for my client Softalk to different journalists at PC Pro. Both are a result of things I’ve read in the latest issue (but aren’t the usually dumb “you’ve just covered widget my client does the same why not write about them”). Incidentally I was reading PC Pro in the bath when I became inspired and scribbled my ideas on a notebook (paper) that I keep at the side – just try doing that on-line!

What sparked off this tirade was reading Drew B’s great “insider’s look at PR, technology and the media blog”. He reveals that James Warren of Weber Shandwick has come out with a new blog called PR 2.0. Despite the naff name and to be fair to James it’s actually very good so far. Sadly the name doesn’t appear to be ironic and it appears that James has fallen for the PR 2.0 hype.

Mind you last week PR Week thought Weber Shandwick converting a toilet into a podcasting cubicle was news so who knows. I’ve a good mind to send PR Week a news release about the world’s first open air podcasting studio complete with authentic sounds from nature. BMA PR opened it last Easter when the weather became warmer and I fixed the wifi connection so I could take the laptop and microphone into the garden.

And thanks to Richard Bailey I’ve also plucked from my bin a glossy little brochure from Weber Shandwick that was in last week’s PR Week. James has an article entitiled “Coming to terms with losing control” which is quite good apart from its central concept. It asks “How does PR make sense of this new media landscape?”. Good question, but I think James gives the wrong answer when he says “First and foremost, it needs to come to terms with losing control”. Sorry to burst your bubble James but even global giants like Weber Shandwick have never had control.

The idea that “PR has to accept that it can no longer control what is being said about a company and its products” is simply ludicrous. When have any of us ever had “total control of its brand and messaging”. Yes we’ve managed processes and influenced things but we’ve never had control. And guess what in the brave new world of social media we can still manage processes and influence things.

James redeems himself later in the article when he says “People have always talked about your company and its products, blogging simply makes these conversations public… by joining the conversation… you have an opportunity to change perceptions, challenge inaccuracies and build relationships”. That, in my humble opinion, is what it’s really about which is why I keep returning to my quote in The Guardian last year “The PR who ignores blogs is an even bigger fool than those who think blogs change everything”.

I very much like and respect Weber Shandwick as a PR firm (not least because it has quite a hot northern operation) but my impression is that it has some way to go to catch up with what Edelman and Lewis are doing in social media.

We might have to have different conversations with different people using different channels but that is simply the evolution of our profession. It’s not PR 2.0.

UPDATE: Susan Getgood has just made a comment referencing a post she made at the weekend but for some reason her Typekey profile is blank so here is the link to her post on why she doesn’t like PR 2.0 (or Web 2.0).

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://prstudies.typepad.com Richard Bailey

    Wow – you're good when you're angry. (You're right, too.)

  • http://12commanonymous.typepad.com/my_weblog/ Lauren Vargas

    As I responded to Tom Murphy (and from conversation it appears we are on the same wavelength): Tom and I agree that jumping on board with online tools and forgetting the classic tools/techniques is premature. I'll buy that. The tools can only evolve if there is a revolution in thinking: http://12commanonymous.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/06/revolution_is_i.html

    A revolution in thinking is not a "shiny new thing" — it is getting back-to-basics and the revelation of giving up control to the customer/audience. To quote Tom, "I realize that this may not by sexy, cool, hip or ground breaking, but it's likely to be far more effective." This is what changes the communications industry and allows all tools to be more effective.

    What is the phrase…"You must be able to see the forest through the trees." Too many people are swept away with the hype of buzz words/trends…it is like a new toy…just wait until the newness is gone and the problems remain. Then where is the industry?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sgetgood/ Susan Getgood

    I couldn't agree more. I have an almost visceral reaction whenever I hear anything classified as 2.0. I posted this on my blog over the weekend:

    "And before I forget, the term "PR 2.0" must go too. For similar reasons. The fundamental practice of PR is still the same as it ever was — it's all about connections and information and relationships. The tools are just how we accomplish the work. They are NOT the work."

  • http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com John Cass

    Stuart, I think that you are right in saying that good public relations has always been about building relationships with journalists. Private conversations were part and parcel of the process of building relationships with journalists. There was no way to reveal them to the public, and in many circumstances no desire to reveal those conversations to the public.

    I don't think anything has changed with public relations. But I do think that blogs, forums, wikis and other online websites have created new reasons for conversation with journalists, and bloggers. Previously private conversations with journalists were not revealed in a public space, today, people conducting blogger relations do conduct those conversations in a public space. And the way to build those relationships is to have a conversation, not pitch a product or idea. As an aside I do think that blogger relations as a concept also covers the same way we think of media relations. But I personally have a wider definition. To me blogger relations is the process of discussing ideas, answering questions and building a relationship with bloggers and a wider audience for the sake of demonstrating a company ‘s value, or brand. Dialogue is the key, that’s always happened with PR, but with blogging there’s some value to a company to reveal those once private conversations with journalists, as how those conversations are conducted and the details of the conversation actually reveal a lot about a company and its ideas.

    The process of conversation as well as the ideas expressed both build the relationship or not between two bloggers. But just as FDR was playing to the individual listener in his famous broadcasts from the 1930's, the blogger conducting blogger relations also has to be aware that what is written on a blog will be seen by a wider audience.

    We might debate the merits of using web 2.0 or not. But I do think that blogging and blogger relations is something new.

  • Tina Lang-Stuart

    Stuart – cut James Warren some slack. Aren't we all guilty of the PR 2.0 trap? The title for his new blog is not very original but many PR/social media/Marcom bloggers refer to PR 2.0 (it's all 2.0 these days anyways). And of course PR is only evolving but there are – as John Cass points out – a few new things about the new PR world (as you see I am desperately avoiding the term PR 2.0). PR people step out of the background – some love it and some do it reluctantly – to become part of the conversation. It's becoming a middlesex-kind-of-society where there's a thin line between journalists, bloggers, vloggers, MySpace networkers, PR and Marketing people. Make no mistake about it: there is innovation and there is definitely movement in the PRsphere.

  • http://publicsphere.typepad.com/mediations/ Philip Young

    Stuart,

    Well done .. not least for spurring John Cass to one of the most lucid comments on the New PR I have read.

  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com/simonsays Simon Colllister

    The only problem is: what happens to James's blog when technology moves on to Web 2.1?

  • http://www.beyondblogging2006.com/ Chris Heuer

    Stuart excellent post – will definitely add you to my feed reader. We have long combatted the use of Web 2.0 as a term – mocking it lightly with our http://www.web2point1.org/ event and trying to shift the discussion to a different path for understanding what is different about the current era in Web history (yes it's open, live and social, but it really is about people IMHO)

    I completely agree with you that the PR/Communications industry is in a much better position to understand and use social media due to its conversational nature. Hopefully more people will read this and start to explore the social media world with that understanding and perspective rather than thinking it is the next thing to worry about.

    We had a very interesting discussion on a similar topic a couple of months ago over on Burning Bird http://weblog.burningbird.net/2006/04/04/mix-and-match/. In the end, most of what the new world of social media requires of communications professionals is a return to the fundamentals – but it needs to be approached from what is perhaps a more personal voice/perspective than what most people are used to using in public. It is the context and implementation that has really changed, not the practice itself. Yes Blogggers and Blogger Relations requires some new practices and strategies, just as the email newsletter did and the fax broadcast before that.

    Today though, instead of needing to maintain contacts with a few dozen journalists, we may need to also keep on top of a few dozen bloggers while keeping our eye on the horizon for the newest influentials. So, while we need not reinvent the industry entirely, we do need to realign our understanding of the world in light of social media and improve the way in which we interface with media in general. This is an ongoing evolution though, not a one time upgrade that can be tidied up in a neat bow some people call two point oh.

  • http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com John Cass

    Thanks Philip, I think the focus should be on what's new about blogger relations. How is this medium different from existing forms of communication? What opportunities does it present to company communicators and how can those communicators use blogging effectively?

    Tina, I especially like your quote here, "PR people step out of the background – some love it and some do it reluctantly – to become part of the conversation. It's becoming a middlesex-kind-of-society where there's a thin line between journalists, bloggers, vloggers, MySpace networkers, PR and Marketing people." That concept of a "middlesex-kind-of-society where there's a thin line" between different professions is especially compelling and very descriptive of how I see the use of blogging. In some ways I think the playing field has been leveled for everyone, everyone is succeeding with their existing set of skills and tools, but at the same time struggling to learn all of the other profession's skills in order to become more effective at blogger relations.

  • http://BLOGSURVEY.BACKBONEMEDIA.COM/archives/2006/06/whats_new_about.html Backbone Blogging Survey

    What’s New About Blogging For PR

    Stuart Bruce discusses the relative merits of PR 2.0. An active discussion has developed on the post from several bloggers. I particularly liked the quote from Tina Lang-Stuart. “PR people step out of the background – some love it and…

  • http://www.bernaisesource.blog.com Dan Greenfield

    Enjoyed your posting. I wonder what the master Edward Bernays would have to say about this. Whether it is PR 1.0, 2.0 or 3.14, the objectives are the same, even if the rules have changed. I agree with my trusted friend Bob Winslow now at Fleishman-Hillard who believes that PR is still about understanding your audiences, knowing the influencers, engaging in the conversation and building trust within those communities that you need to develop your story/brand.

  • http://jameswarren.wordpress.com/ James Warren

    Stuart, hi. Terrific stuff and thanks for all the pixels.

    I can assure you that the decision to give my nascent attempt at bloggery the name 'PR 2.0' was not taken lightly. I accept the comments that you – and others – make about the term, but I still, rather predictably, stand by it. Why? First and foremost, my objective is not to convince you and your readers about the new opportunities social media provide, but rather persuade those less technically agile than yourselves that there are new and disproportionately influential avenues available to them. While you and your readers (and I include myself in that group) may instinctively know and understand social media and how to use it for PR purposes, I can assure you that there are many, many PR people outside the tech/PR blog echo chamber who find the whole thing bewildering, confusing and distinctly uncomfortable. Others still have their heads buried firmly in the sand. The (admittedly over-used) term PR 2.0 piques the interest of these audiences at the same time as inferring new opportunities.

    IMHO calling something 2.0 doesn't imply that which went before it was wrong or needed replacing – rather, that the latest version is enhanced, upgraded, tweaked to better suit recent developments. So it doesn't mean that we should throw away all knowledge, techniques and skills – the core mechanics of PR – and start again with some brand new 'smoke and mirrors daylight webbery'. Far from it. However, I do believe PR has an opportunity now to influence more powerfully and more directly, via new non-traditional activities/techniques, in a way that is significantly developed from traditional public relations (which was most commonly focused on telling a story to media, Govt, investors and/or analysts and hoping they retold it to their audiences). It's not necessarily the 'how' that's changing, but the 'what' the 'when' the 'who' and the 'where'.

    I, like you, live and breathe this stuff. I've been hired by WS to help make up some lost ground. To find out how I'm doing keep an eye on my blog. As soon as I am able, I'll let you know some of the stuff I'm doing. In the meantime, I'll ignore the fact that you said some of my comments were ludicrous and simply wish you continued success with your blog.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/stuartbrucepr/ Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    James, thanks for your response. My problem with PR 2.0 is that I very much disagree with your description of "traditional public relations". It wasn't what I was taught when studying for PR qualifications 15 years ago and isn't what I've practiced since. PR for me is a management discipline about two-way communications, behaviour and reputation. It has never been just about "telling a story to media, Govt, investors and/or analysts". According to that limited description of PR then we would be at PR 2.0, but the problem is that isn't a definition of PR 1.0. Most descriptions I've seen of PR 2.0 would fit classic definitions of public relations.

  • http://jameswarren.wordpress.com James Warren

    Fair enough, Stuart. I do concede I over-simplified PR (although by the same token I think we (as an industry) are sometimes guilty of over-intellectualising it), but that'll be because I didn't have the benefit of a dedicated PR education – a sorry state of affairs, which I estimate I share with the vast majority of my colleagues and clients. But that'll be why you're the Guru and we're, well, not ; )

    Keep up the good work!

  • http://publicsphere.typepad.com/mediations/2006/06/what_is_the_new.html mediations

    What is the New PR?

    As we finalise details for our fourth Delivering the New PR conference, in Scotland on September 13, it is worth thinking about what is meant by ‘the New PR’, indeed, if there is such a thing… Simply, yes, there is

  • http://leverwealth.blogspot.com David Phillips

    The depth 'marketing 0.1.0' pre-synaptic influence remains a genetic flaw in many practitioners.

    The real problem is that the use and application of our eveloving technologies is quite fast.

    Turning a 'Marketing' led so called PR consultancy round is a big job.

    I doubt if many will make it.

    Does this pressage the break up of the likes of Interpublic and or WPP or both……

    Certainly it there is not a great future in the three telesales (oops…. account exec) floors between reception and the C suite and they are the backbone of fee revenue.

  • http://www.conversationblog.com Philippe Borremans

    Hi Stuart,

    Good post, angry but right to the point.

    When you say that PR has always been about 2 way communications I am a believer, but at the same time I also know a lot of PR people who get scared as hell when they hear words like "transparency" or "employee blogging" etc… Command & Control is maybe not in the PR school books (although I had some "good" case studies at PR school coming right out of Goebel's manual) but you have to admit that a lot of people in the industry really believe(d) they controlled the message…

    As with any technology, all new media needs to be put into context and blogs, wikis, podcasting etc… are just new media that we need to understand and use when appropriate. I teach and train PR/Marketing professionals in the use of these things and can tell you… it is a much needed but slow process, especially here on the European continent. The word "control" pops up at every workshop and the idea that this is a "revolution" quickly gets hold in the mind of trainees.

    My golden rule; whatever the tools, gadgets, new media… think about the "public/audience" first, then "the message" and pick a "medium" (or media) that makes sense… This usually works.

  • http://BLOGSURVEY.BACKBONEMEDIA.COM/archives/2006/06/the_new_pr_is_p.html Backbone Blogging Survey

    The New PR Is Part Of Blogger Relations

    John Cass explains why he thinks PR is part of the new discipline of blogger relations

  • http://www.lipsticking.com Yvonne DiVita

    Oh stop it! Web 2.0, Pr 2.0, who cares? Labels are labels. We're human beings, we live to attach labels to things. PR is a label. It describes something… I don't mind it at all. If it offends, do a Seth Godin and create your own label…one that works better. Till then, when I see 2.0 attached to something… it tells me that's an update, and that it involves collaboration, conversation, two-way marketing.

    Reality: life has ALWAYS been about two-way marketing and PR. The new label just identifies the fact that people are finally recognizing that. What's wrong with that?

  • http://www.darwinpr.com vince bank

    Love the post.

    I'm a hypocrite because I've optimized my blog for terms including pr 2.0. That said, my degrees in college were history, comm, and philosophy.

    Don't hire me because I can sell you on the latest shiny thing: Hire my firm because we think analytically and apply that skill set to the best tech platforms.

  • http://www.darwinpr.com vince bank

    Love the post.

    I'm a hypocrite because I've optimized my blog for terms including pr 2.0. That said, my degrees in college were history, comm, and philosophy.

    Don't hire me because I can sell you on the latest shiny thing: Hire my firm because we think analytically and apply that skill set to the best tech platforms.