Relax, PR will be around long after the hype has gone

Sometimes you happen upon a blog post title in your RSS reader (yep I’m old school) that grabs your attention. 

Great headlines work.

Unfortunately you then read the post and find it has the consistency of a marshmallow, it’s gooey and melts away pretty quickly and has little substance.

That was my reaction to to David Armano’s post: Does PR have a Future?

Now let me say up front that I’ve read and watched a lot of David’s content and opinions and I’m not questioning that he brings a lot of insight, and value to the whole social media discussion, but this post isn’t one of his high spots.

I thought it was a good excuse to address some of the PR and social media related observations you see expressed regularly.

Social media is increasingly being used across business – yes it is because social media is a set of tools and channels that can add business value in a number of areas including marketing, investor relations, research, sales and customer support.

Social media is the most important thing to business – no, I’m afraid not.  It is of course important and useful, but you’ll find that financial management, creating great products, attracting and retaining great staff, providing great services and many other functions remain as important as ever – and arguably more important than some tools and channels. Will we no longer need sales people because ‘we’re all sales people’ and we’ll just put the products up on Facebook? Really?

Marketing/PR is dead, dying or going away – are you mad? Yes social media provides a great human interface to a company, yes it’s a powerful set of tools to reach and engage with people, but guess what, we still need people focused on the strategic imperatives of an organization, we still need people thinking beyond 140 characters.  When someone has an issue, what will they do? Will it be a great experience to send a random tweet in the hope it reaches someone who can help them? Really?

Everyone is a spokesperson – Firstly, I really marvel at how we make comments that ‘each employee becomes a representative of the company every time they engage in public’ like this is something new. It’s not. Of course social media amplifies the impact, but it’s not a eureka moment.  It presents opportunities and challenges for employees and companies, but how does it negate the need for professional communicators? Is this the transformation of product planning to an infinite number of employees in a room banging away on social media?

Businesses are becoming more social and rigid job descriptions will go away – OK businesses are becoming more social, but do we really think that everyone will move into a mass of generalist roles where we spend some of our day doing different jobs? How do we think that’s manageable? How do we think that’s a great idea? Why do we think that social media tools outweigh the value of real world experience, insight and knowledge? It doesn’t.

David closes by saying:

If "everyone" is a spokesperson to some degree—does public relations cease to exist? It’s probably not that simple since the reality is that "communications" will not end up as a free for all activity, but as something which evolves into more than just communicating but also interacting. In my mind—the key is relationships. Manage the relationships between all critical stakeholders who can make or break your business, and you hold the key to a more sustainable way of doing business. Sound like PR?

He’s right no it’s not that simple. There won’t be a free for all.  And yes PR is about managing relationships, it’s also about communications, it’s about problem solving, it’s about strategy, it’s about hard decisions, it’s about many things beyond using tools.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we focus the discussion on how social media enhances an organization rather than trying to create doomsday scenarios which frankly aren’t based on any insight into how a business works, and shows a complete disrespect for the knowledge, skills and insights of a whole cabal of professional people beyond PR.

Pithy phrases and throwaway opinions don’t move the exploration of social media forward, they just reduce it’s credibility.

But of course, that’s just my opinion and your mileage may vary.


10 thoughts on “Relax, PR will be around long after the hype has gone

  1. Great post and I agree with most of it. The point I disagree with you and with David on is that PR is all about relationships. All business is about relationships – that’s not really what’s unique about what we PRs bring to the party. We don’t manage or own the majority of a firm’s or any institution’s relationships (unless we work in firm that’s only business is PR, such Edelman). It is that flaw – that PR is all about relationship – that led to the daft thoughts David expressed in his piece. PRs have never been very good at defining clearly what they do for a living….

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I completely agree with you, PR isn’t “all” about relationships, it’s far more than that, though relationships are often part of the job – but I’d agree with you the depth and breadth of relationship management depends on the role and the firm.


  3. You bring out some issues that I’ve seen in the industry as well. Social media can be a tricky tool, and something you pay careful attention to when using. Like you said it’s not simple. So it is important to keep in mind that it is not the only thing companies are using, even though at times it may seem that way. When working for a client I’ve found the method of storytelling can be very useful. In creating a unique story that shows your company’s strengths and offerings you can engage the audience. This is real insight, more than a 140 character tweet or short lived facebook post. There is a great article that can give you more insight about this if you’re interested, Read and comment and you’ll be put in the running for a brand new read on business storytelling.

  4. Are Social network users getting more savvy or is the Brand Overload causing a step back?
    Since PR is rated about as high as Politicians/Lawyers on the food chain of life, what if anything can they do about it?

  5. I completely agree that it was not one of his high spots and I also agree that social media is becoming increasingly used by businesses, but it is not the most important thing nor is it going to replace the public relations people.

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