A version of this post appeared on July 2nd on Marketing Magazine
There’s a paradox in modern public relations: as a business, PR is thriving like never before, even as its best-known product – media relations – seems threatened by an erosion in traditional journalism.
Why is public relations thriving? It’s all about the public, or publics. As consumers, citizens and stakeholders, we have lost trust in corporations, governments, leaders and institutions, just as we have gained global publishing power on our computers and smartphones. In this environment, the quality of an organization’s relationships with its publics, and those who influence them, becomes the surest predictor of reputation. Relationships depend on authentic, transparent and two-way engagement, qualities that are difficult to achieve through marketing and advertising.
That is why PR is one of the hottest fields in education and employment growth, and why PR budgets are on the rise, particularly in social media. It is also not surprising that when I go to multi-agency client strategy meetings, I see ad agencies proposing more PR-like approaches, such as native advertising or branded content on media properties.
But PR’s frontiers are being challenged, too. PR firms, corporate PR departments and individual professionals who have not diversified their offerings and skill sets risk falling behind.
In Milan last week, Alastair McCapra, the CEO of the U.K.’s Chartered Institute for Public Relations, made a compelling argument to the leaders of the world’s PR associations at the annual meeting of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. He compared today’s digital age to the original Industrial Revolution, which had three phases over four decades: the age of agriculture, the age of handcraft, and the age of the factory. As the handcraft age arrived, intermediate technologies such as handloom weaving made a typical small business far more productive and profitable. But as more advanced technologies enabled mass automation, many were left behind.
The analogy is that the social web has been a boon to public relations, as practitioners, departments and agencies can create and disseminate content more easily than ever. Many have even recast themselves as “content marketers.” It has also reduced the barriers to entry in PR even further. But what happens when manual content creation is disrupted by sophisticated software that can generate content automatically?
For PR to continue its growth, therefore, the key lies in moving upwards and outwards in businesses, organizations and society. This means being the custodian of the organization’s relationship strategy; counseling leaders on how to reduce reputational risk and maximize opportunity; helping to define and safeguard the character and values of the organization; bringing consciousness to the task of listening to stakeholders, and conscience to the way the organization communicates, both inside and outside; and demonstrating how it brings value to society.
Media relations will not disappear. In fact, I would argue that as citizens and consumers we need ethical, credible journalism more than ever to curate content and help us navigate a complicated world – eliciting transparency from those who seek our data, our money and our support – and helping us evaluate their claims and choose the voices we will trust.
The present and future of public relations, however, involves engagement with an ever-burgeoning spectrum of influencers and stakeholders, with the aim of listening as much as talking, and helping as much as selling. In the pursuit of value, creating compelling content is a smart tactic; but building enduring relationships is a smart strategy.
About the Author:
Daniel Tisch is the President and CEO for Argyle Public Relationships. He is one of Canada’s best-known communicators, having worked at senior levels in government before embarking on a 20-year consulting career in which he has advised CEOs, boards, government leaders and marketers for some of the world’s biggest brands.