There's no easy answer on the future of PR….

Whilst this blog is inherently designed to discuss Public Relations at large, and not specifically blogs and associated technologies such as RSS, the nature of the blog echo chamber is that PR Opinions ends up with a disproportionate amount of content on online technical issues.

That’s the downside of blogging on PR, although I admit many of the hundred PR bloggers do a better job than I of sidestepping the endless chatter about blogs and RSS – a discussion that in many ways is not currently relevant to mainstream practitioners – and before anyone adds a comment I am not opening up that debate once again.

Every so often I feel this distinct need to put forward some themes I believe can help frame these discussions.

The world is a crazy mixed up place

New developments such as blogging are adding further noise to an already busy world. In the past decade the world of papers, magazines, periodicals, radio, twenty-four hour TV, mail, phones and faxes has been further complicated by e-mail, instant messaging, web sites, blogging and RSS.  The noise is getter louder, the ability to get the right information to the right audience in an efficient manner is getting harder.

PR will adapt… eventually

It’s good that so many PR professionals are using blogs to evangelize the benefits of the brave new world of blogs, RSS and online discussion.  Over time (say the next three years) we’ll see the PR profession broadly adopt these technologies.  We’ll expect to see corporate blogs that provide a real insight into a company’s thinking and motivation not just regurgitated press releases.  We’ll see blog relations become a key part of every PR program.  We’ll also see press information being sent over RSS as well as wires, e-mail (and in some cases fax – gasp!).  But there’ll be no Eureka moment folks, just like every other development, it will happen incrementally.

The ole baby and bathwater analogy

While these changes will occur, I firmly believe that the human character will remain constant.  The single most effective form of human communication, always has been and always will be face-to-face.  The phone (I include VOIP in that category) will continue to be important for practitioners who want to nurture relationships.  Effective use of online tools (blogs, RSS, e-mail) will continue to proliferate as an adjunct to our traditional tools. There’s an evolution taking place, don’t expect to see the extinction of traditional practices.

New skills will merge with old skills

Related to the last point, let’s not forget that good Public Relations skills such as oral communication, writing skills, strategic thinking and good organization are every bit as relevant today.  These skills are the basic building blocks and will remain so.  What we will also see is the merger of those capabilities with new online skills such as the ability to reach out to individuals, the increasing importance of conversations etc.

The definition of Public Relations is expanding

PR is about the ability to effectively communicate with an audience.  This is a broad remit, though often in the past it has been defined in a narrow context.  Too often PR becomes synonymous with media relations.  That will become less prevalent as we move forward.  PR in the future will need a whole host of new skills to go with what we already have.  These include our ability to communicate on a one-to-one basis but more importantly it means understanding how people find information online, how people like to recieve information.  As search engines have become the single most popular way to find information across the Internet, new skills such as Search Engine Optimization will become increasingly important for PR people.

The quest for knowledge is divine

No one has all the answers to where we’re headed.  If they did they wouldn’t be sharing them with the likes of us, instead they’d be off rolling around in fresh hundred dollar bills.  There’s a lot of good thinking taking place, there’s loads of experts, there’s loads of advice.  I encourage you to listen, to read, to research but most of all to question.  Understand how new technologies can help or hinder what you do every day.  Experiment with new technologies and techniques.  Most of all embrace change, but only when that change offers you some tangible benefit.

And if you take all my advice above, and you have any sense, you’ll discount this post immediately!

Some additional reading: