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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Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs