Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

The new world of Public Relations is pining for the fjords…

One of the problems with having a blog is the temptation for knee-jerk (that should probably be finger-jerk but that sounds a little rude) reactions to content you read online.  You read something that you either really agree with or irks you and the obvious reaction is to post a strongly worded post. I am fighting my addiction to impulse posting and have starting making a habit of purchasing a nice coffee to give me some time and perspective.

Religon is also something I try and avoid here, but in looking at the Public Relations business, its practitioners and its detractors, its challenges and adopters is there better guidance than:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Reality Check

Ladies and gentlemen, Public Relations isn’t going anywhere.  Public Relations is not dying, but Public Relations is slowly changing.  When I say slowly, I’d like you to think of the speed with which glaciers around the globe shaped the Earth’s landscape. Yes PR is changing that fast.

The vision of a new, rapidly emerging conversation-based democracy, is in my humble opinion, way overblown. It’s a vision and like all visions it will take a long time to pass – if ever.

PR’s problems continue unabated.

There is no question that the Public Relations industry has a myriad of major challenges. There are a significant number of practitioners (though still a small minority) engaging in unethical pay-for-play activities.  The profession’s image is appalling and it is actually getting worse.  The practice of even the most basic tools of our trade e.g. media relations is often ham fisted and amateur.

The human species evolves faster than the PR industry recognizes and adopts new technologies and techniques.  Its professional bodies, have to date, failed to address the shadier practices of the few – practices which no right thinking PR person could ever condone.

These are fundamental challenges � but that�s all.

The New York Times� article �Spinning Frenzy: P.R.�s Bad Press” does a good job illustrating these difficulties.

One good thing that has arisen from the whole Ketchum-Armstrong Williams affair is that it has forced the PR establishment to come out and take a stand on ethics.  This is a positive step, albeit late and a little self-serving.  However these headlines aren�t slowing down the big profit business of astroturfing.

Big, medium and small sized PR firms continue to leave their ethics at home while �working� for companies and industry organizations.  For many, the call of the PR dollar is far more attractive than the lonely high ground of ethics and good practice. Money talks.

Changing Practices

The other chestnut that continues to roast gently on the open fire, is how the advent of new tools such as blogging will kill, maim or damage Public Relations.  I am unconvinced. Yes these developments will slowly change PR campaigns.  They will add new tactics and demand new thinking on how to best communicate with an audience.  But that�s it folks.  The slowly moving PR machinery will eventually assimilate blogs, RSS and Wikis in the same way the fax, phone and the tabloid have been assimilated.

Even the profile of Robert Scoble in the Economist which includes the potentially incendiary sub-head: “Does Robert Scoble, a celebrity blogger on Microsoft’s payroll, herald the death of traditional public relations?”, acknowledges that:

�(Scoble) thinks that there will always be a place for traditional PR, with its centrally controlled corporate message, alongside the spontaneous cacophony of blogs.�

Of course there will always be a place for �traditional PR�.  Traditional PR is concerned with effective communication with an audience. This transcends the tool and the channel.  PR people will eventually � don�t hold your breath � embrace blogs and they will take their place in the PR armoury alongside press releases (yes press releases), face-to-face briefings, telelconferences etc.

It�s good that some PR practitioners are embracing and demonstrating these techniques ahead of the curve. These practitioners are showing the way, but don�t think your fellow practitioners won�t follow, they will, in their own good time.

Pragmatism

On a personal level I will continue to criticize what I see as shoddy, unethical practices.  I will continue to highlight the potential of new technologies, but with a realization that market forces will decide how Public Relations evolves.

PR isn�t dead or dying.  It�s helping individuals, corporations, non-profit organizations and industries communicate.

It�s big business.

Hopefully the growing community of PR bloggers can continue to provide insightful commentary on the industry, aggressively address unethical practice and encourage faster adoption of new techniques and tools that can radically improve communication.

But at the end, the PR business isn�t going anywhere� well not quickly.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

February 14, 2005 at 10:39 am

Posted in General

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