This week’s The Economist has a great article on the history of public relations and its potential growth thanks to the rise of social media. The history is as good a summary as you’ll read anywhere of the role of industry forerunners Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays.
Looking forward the article says that some PR people:
‘now spy a rare opportunity to steal a march on the Mad Men of advertising and the flipchart-wielders of marketing. In the chaotic online world of social networking, they argue, their talents are much more relevant than their rivals.’
The article also highlights the confusion that exists over exactly what we mean by social media when used in a public relations, corporate communications or marketing communications context. It says:
‘It is not difficult to stick pins in the PR men’s inflated hopes of being the lords of online chaos. For a start, ad men can also distribute their hard-sell branding campaigns on social networks. Nike shows its television adsâ€”the same ones it pays to have broadcastâ€”on its Facebook page, to which over 3m people have signed up as ‘likers’.’
The point is there is space for both the public relations professionals with our traditional focus on behaviour, reputation and influence as well as the advertising people. Social media has paid, owned and earned elements. The paramount role of public relations is always going to mainly be in owned and earned.
The article goes on to cover the usual stuff about lack of control, influencers, barrage of messages, citizen journalists etc. But one line that jumped out for me was from Professor Anne Gregory, director of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University who ‘has seen few cases where PR firms have created true social-media-only campaigns: all that is happening is that social-media elements are being added to traditional marketing plans.’
I’ve known Anne for more than 20 years and reading between the lines I’m guessing she’s been cited out of context. My response to what she said would be â€“ well yes that’s how it should be. Social media is very much an essential part of any corporate communications or marketing communication plan. But ‘part of’ being the key words. It is very rarely going to be sufficient on its own. Almost every social media public relations campaign we do at Wolfstar Consultancy is part of something else. There are a few honourable exceptions and once we’ve got client sign-off I’ve got an interesting case study about a public affairs campaign we did that was 100% social media and online PR led, but also because of its very success also had important offline coverage.
That’s why what we offer to our clients is to help them integrate our elements of the social media mix into their corporate communications and marketing communications strategy. It’s why we don’t offer up a ‘social media strategy’ as it it pretty pointless, although it can be a useful sales tool to give you an opportunity to talk to the client about something sensible.