New Media Age leader still doesn’t really get PR and social media

I was heartened to see that New Media Age (NMA) had a leader on ‘PR is becoming crucial to brands’ digital strategy‘, but the actual article was a major disappointment, mainly highlighting how far digital people are from actually ‘getting’ what public relations actually is.

It starts with the same lazy and inaccurate assumption that PR is all about ‘knocking out a press release and rounding up a few journalists to buy champagne for at a product launch”. It then asks if PR is really up to speed or if the discipline is changing?

Eh? Changing from something it never was? Let’s repeat it, for the umpteenth time:

Public relations is not just media relations and press releases

When I entered the public relations profession 20+ years ago it wasn’t about press releases and buying drinks for journalists. Now I can understand how people outside the industry can get this impression, but what I don’t get is how people working in any professional communications discipline can make the same mistake. I make it my professional duty to know a bit about what I don’t know about digital, media planning, creative, print and all the other communications disciplines that I’m not an expert in.

The leader reminded me of what we see time and time again – that digital and social media agencies can be really good at implementing online activity, but still have a long way to go before they can be trusted to have any major input into the broader corporate communications and marketing communications strategy. It also means companies and brands have got to spend time ‘policing’ what the digital and social media agencies do to make sure that there ‘brilliant’ campaign doesn’t have any adverse corporate reputation side effects.

And because it’s essential that digital strategy is fully integrated into the overall corporate communications strategy it also means that the only future for digital and social media agencies is if they hire people who truly understand it, because the PR agencies and advertising agencies can and are hiring people who ‘do’ digital as well as anyone at a specialist digital or social media agency.

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://www.brandalert.co.uk Nigel Sarbutts

    Stuart, I think you’re both right, but I’d be agreeing more with you than NMA if your statement in bold had read “Public Relations DONE WELL is not just media relations etc..”

    The fact is that PR has allowed itself to get into a ‘race to the bottom’ of commoditised media relations for as long as I can remember driven by the twin threats that there are no barriers to entry (either cost or intellectual) and you can have a nice ‘lifestyle’ income by knocking out releases for clients who want just that.

    To show that I pay attention to these things I recall a very good piece you wrote years ago about how interview tests should enquire after the intellectual curiosity of candidates. If every consultancy did that then we might see the kind of PR emerge that you describe, but it would be 5 years in the making.

    The combined effect of easy pickings for me-too operators employing dullards is that more often than not PR goes running home to mummy and the comfort of the cuttings book rather than asking difficult commercial questions of clients. This is not to say that PR briefs from clients are uniformly better than they were 5, 10, or 15 years ago and often still amount to little more than ‘create awareness’. The digital agencies are simply more comfortable approaching client briefs from the position of analytics and tracking cause and effect than PR’s hunches (even if those hunches are right) and this has the effect of making it easier for clients to buy this approach when every penny has to prove its worth.

    The solution is better quality of consultants demanding a better quality of brief coupled with a desire from clients for bravery and to follow a compelling hunch of the sort that produced drumming gorillas and irritating meerkats.

    Best wishes

    Nigel

  • Anonymous

    Stuart, a great piece and Nigel a quality response! I think you hit the nail on the head about the ‘race to the bottom’ angle.

    From my perspective back in the day, too many PR firms saw digital as a totally alien concept that had nothing to do with them, whilst digital firms were trying to act like they understood just what goes into developing valued and valuable media relations – then the SEO guys come wading in.

    I come at this from the point of view of the “old” PR discipline of crisis management – managing the perception of one’s brand. Every interaction one makes in a social channel has the potential to damage that reputation – and are digital or SEO agencies really best-placed to manage that?

  • Justin Pearse

    Hi Stuart,

    I was interested in your blog post that I don’t “really get PR and social media”.

    My leader talks about PR being “critical to the success of a brand’s digital
    strategy and bottom line”. Which basically sums up the message of my leader.

    I’ve been a journalist for 15 years covering this space so have a pretty
    good idea, I think, of how PR fits into a brand’s overall marketing
    strategy. NMA celebrates online PR, which is why we went as far to launch a
    separate title dedicated to it.

    So I would really be interested to hear what in my leader makes you think I
    don’t “get PR and social media”.

    Best,
    Justin

    Justin Pearse, Editor, NMA (New Media Age)

  • http://www.stuartbruce.biz Stuart Bruce

    Justin, thanks for the comment. The leader starts off with “PR is going through a major upheaval, caused directly by digital media and social media in particularIs it time you checked the credentials of whoever’s handling your PR? While they may be perfectly happy knocking out a press release and rounding up a few journalists to buy champagne for at a product launch, are they really up to speed on how the discipline is changing?”

    The premise of my criticism is that PR isn’t – and hasn’t been for the 20+ years I’ve worked in it – about press releases and buying journalists champagne. Therefore it would be impossible to see how the “discipline is changing” from something that it wasn’t in the first place.

    It then says “Online PR means public relations is becoming increasingly about managing a brand’s relations with its customers, not solely about brokering relationships with the press.” Sorry, but it always has been, the clue’s in the name PUBLIC relations.

    I’m not knocking what NMA has done to improve its coverage of online public relations, which I think is brilliant. What I am knocking is the attitude that’s prevalent across most of the digital industry of ‘knocking PR’, but only because it totally fails to understand what public relations is in the first place. If PR really was what most digital people seem to think then they’d be right to knock it, but it isn’t.

  • http://www.gmtpowerpress.com Powerpress

    Intrested postings… i like it

  • Gerry Casanova

    I’ve been in the PR field for 20 years, but began my career six years earlier in advertising at Y&R in NY. Back then agency chief Ed Ney was truly visionary with his “Whole Egg” concept – a blueprint for the super one-stop ad shop that could integrate various communications disciplines, such as PR, promotion, direct mail, and more. Y&R acquired a slew of stellar specialty agencies for this purpose, but in truth the spirit of “Whole Egg” has never been realized – probably due to the ad-centric nature of advertising executives.

    Ad and PR people are fundamentally different, of course. Advertising is a business of honing the message to a nugget and then controlling everything from creative execution to media delivery. PR on the other hand has always been about searching the big picture for story angles that put the message nugget into timely context. We PR people are necessarily creative, resourceful and humble, skilled at accomplishing a lot with relatively little in terms of funds and clout. Importantly, PR practitioners understand media strategy and integrity, and the means for finding, cultivating and preserving (media and non-media) relationships that cannot be bought. It’s little surprise that the PR field has embraced the digital age. Indeed digital communications is transforming PR in extraordinary (and positive) ways – making it relevant and influential as ever in the marketing mix.

    Gerry Casanova
    Twitter: gerrycasanovaNY