Public relationships has been what Public Relations has been about since the phrase was first coined. Read any history of the industry. The future, much like the past, will all be about public relationships albeit in new ways with new tools. But, IMHO, defining it in these terms is of little help to any PR practitioner. What we do need a deeper understanding of what this Participatory Era is all about. I’m not just talking the need for a new tag.
I see and meet many communications professionals working hard to understand what to do next. Much of the focus is around using all the new technology we have at our disposal to engage in deeper conversations with communities – not just audiences – that surround products and businesses. And, how to participate authentically with them. In this context, Blogs are not public relationships. They are however a tool or platform for engaging in the kind of dialog that underpins healthy relationships.
Another notion I’d like to challenge is the premise that companies could communicate much more
effectively in this Era by just encouraging everyone to chatter away. This is as much of a
bunk as the notion that PR people are purely intermediaries and connectors. I’m not saying it will work or not work exclusively – but as a
premise its nonsensical. It assumes that "the public" actually cares
about the thousands of opinions a company might express through these
thousands of micro-channels, let alone that they have the time to do
it. And, maybe PR people have an even greater role as intermediaries – just not with the other intermediaries: the media, influencers and pundits – but now directly with their communities?
Now, I’m not saying don’t let people blog. I advocate quite the opposite.
Let them at it. But viewing this as a communications strategy is a big mistake. What it really misses is what the audience wants. What is important here isn’t what we want PR to become but what communities want from their partners. That will define what PR is.
In fact, where PR really gets challenged is that their intermediaries are becoming less important. With the emergence of direct communications channels like podcasts and blogs I want to hear directly from the source. I’m not interested in anyone who is an intermediary – traditional media and pundits esp. And I’m increasingly frustrated that some of my favorite brands (they all begin with A) haven’t got this yet.
Anyway, what so many of these posts miss is that the people driving the spin and opacity in communications today are primarily the business and marketing leaders – OK, PR people are in the mix – but they aren’t the driver. Pointing to PR people and the profession as the origin of the problem is a total cop-out. We need to move this dialog into the c-suite. This revolution we are in the midst of is all about changing the ways companies communicate and that needs to start at the top.
I also don’t know what the PR industry will look like in 10 years (although I have some ideas). What I do know is that a deeper understanding of what it is today and what it has been are desperately needed if we are to really grasp the implications of blogging and the Participatory Era for business – and the business of communicating.