Joseph Jaffe is rightly criticised for Adweek article

Adweek logo Crayon founder Joseph Jaffe has faced a wave of criticism in the comments for his recent by-lined article in Adweek. Personally I’m amazed that the Adweek editor allowed such a blatant ‘puff piece’ to appear under the guise of genuine editorial.

Jaffe uses his op-ed to launch an ill-informed broadside against his competitors from the public relations and digital marketing world. The main problem is that Jaffe’s criticism of both disciplines appear to be based on a fundamental lack of understanding about what public relations and digital marketing companies actually do!

For example his criticisms are only valid if you start off from his rather distorted perspective of what public relations actually is.

He rather magnanimously says ‘Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying PR shouldn’t be at the table.’ But then rather bizarrely goes on to say: ‘I’m just questioning how ‘relations’ between corporations and journalists equate with real people hanging out with other real people.’

It’s only him that’s equating public relations with ‘relations’ between corporations and journalists. Most public relations professionals would equate PR with ‘relations’ between real people and real people, of which journalists are only one group (one defining characteristic of which is their disproportionate ability to influence other people.)

Another one of Jaffe’s unsubstantiated claims is: ‘Whereas the digital space has very little claim to the "physical" world and hasn’t proven itself in the virtual space, the PR industry resides more comfortably in the physical world, with a superficial grasp of the digital space and an anaemic understanding of the virtual one.’

You could just as easily replace PR industry with advertising industry, but it still wouldn’t be true. Yes there are lots of public relations people who don’t get it, just as there are lots of advertising people who don’t get it, and lots of marketing people. So what there are also many that do ‘get it’.

And isn’t it a bit tired and lame to continually harp back to Wal-mart as an example of public relations companies not getting it. Fact 1: it was a long time ago and doesn’t represent what’s happening now. Fact 2: It was a campaign run by some very smart folk, who made a mistake. Fact 3: They apologised and more importantly learnt from it.

Towards the end of the article Jaffe attempts to backtrack slightly and says: ‘Just to be clear, I’m not saying every digital and/or every PR agency is ill-equipped to deliver against ‘social.’ What I am suggesting, however, is there’s an acute and fundamental flaw in equating ‘social’ with ‘digital’ or ‘social’ with ‘earned media.’ The problem with that statement is that it is only Jaffe that is ‘equating "social" with "digital" or "social" with "earned media.’

The whole argument just doesn’t make sense and consists of little more than an ill-informed rant that appears to be designed to say his specialist social media agency can do the job, but nobody else is qualified. POPPYCOCK!

UPDATE: I wrote this post this morning when I first read the article in my feeds. I didn’t post it initially because I didn’t want to do what Jaffe was doing and just randomly have a pop at other businesses in the social media space. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s wrong to lay into people, especially if you’re wrong!

My strongly held belief is that public relations people and businesses are the best placed to lead social media as two-way conversation, dialogue and relationships is at the core of what we do and always has been – it’s not new to us! (Joseph, the clue’s in the name public (as in people, all people) relations (as in relationships, two-way). That’s why there is some great work being done by public relations agencies, and a lot of the best work at integrating social media into corporate communications strategies is being led or commissioned by in-house PR people. Many of the social media campaigns that have been done by PR agencies and have gone wrong is because they’ve been working to briefs from in-house marketing people, rather than PR people.

I also think there is some fantastic work being done by advertising agencies. One of the strengths they have is a robust planning process, which helps them to manage the fact that traditionally they don’t do relationships and two-way communication in the same way as it is burnt into the DNA of public relations.

Some digital agencies are also doing a pretty good job of getting to grips with social media, but the big barrier for most is they don’t have the same strategic communications ability as public relations people and are too focussed on the online solution rather than the real-world social and economic implications.

The reason I said that public relations should ‘lead’ is that it is the custodian and manager of corporate behaviour and reputation. But it can’t do this without working closely with other disciplines such as marketing, human resources, legal/risk management, customer services etc.


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.