Five years ago it looked as though PR was falling to its knees, ready for an upstart social media industry to administer the coup de grâce.
Right now the American PR industry is in the midst of a redefinition. And it’s making a big mistake. Here’s Part 1 and 2 of why.
Part 1. The New PR
The rise of social communications, in theory, left little room for spin or message control, two staples of PR. The industry was exposed, only sometimes unfairly, as a mechanism for controlling broadcast-era corporate messages.
Ad agencies too were caught off guard by social.
But PR companies and ad agencies responded by hiring digital specialists and/or integrating small social media start-ups. A kind of hybrid social PR began to grow.
It was PR with a Facebook account chasing advertising agencies who do social creative.
And lately it became something else again. PR companies began getting involved in the intricate internal challenge of making companies more social.
Here, a completely new role is emerging, one that is open-ended and sstill in need of definition. If, like at Dell 3,000 staffers can talk online on your behalf, where does that leave the PR profession? That’s a fascinating problem to have.
It puts PR in creativity mode, trying to define an agency role in a hyperconnected world where some form of intimacy between customers and company is beginning to scale. And one where the nature of employee communications and empowerment is also radically changing.
Fast Company’s list of the 50 most innovative companies includes Red Bull Media, a true example of a transformational approach to corporate communications.
Now we step back to the future.
Part 2. The Old Confused PR
In January 2012 the PR Society of America (PRSA) asked for suggestions for a new definition of PR, and as of yesterday the profession began voting on them.
The candidates in my view are dire and damaging:
#1. Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
#2. Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
#3. Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.
The PRSA is going to announce the results on 27th Feb, after a two week voting period to round off the crowdsourcing.
Does the PRSA really believe it can voice the role of PR as part of a two-way pact between customer and supplier? I doubt it can work.
Many PR comapny still assume that they are there to support the corporate broadcasting effort. They see a slightly wider range of media channels into which they can pump information for their clients.
I know this from experience and as someone who values PR folks who make contact with stories.