Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve seen blog posts that have left me wondering what the heck has happened to the practice of public relations. A number of bloggers have called out PR people for writing bad press releases, or spamming them, and there’s always the constant mantra in the blogosphere of “why do we need PR people at all? They’re just flacks who lie, obfuscate, and spin.”
Steve Rubel on Monday said:
“Meanwhile, demand for PR specialists is expected to climb 18-26% during the same period. So what are all those bodies going to be doing exactly? I don’t believe that the industry is progressing fast enough when it comes to embracing the digital age so there feels like there is some big disconnect here.”
And Strumpette argues that:
“PR is (should be) the business of making the case to the public on behalf of a client. Exclusively! Period. And the disappearance of the skill of writing in our business is inextricably related to the loss of the ability to do just that. By default, this is absolutely why today the business endorses “the conversation.” It’s because the business has lost the ability to make a convincing, meaningful and memorable presentation. If you cannot do formal, endorse casual.”
One is arguing that the industry isn’t moving quickly enough to get up to speed with technology, while the other argues PR has embraced social media at the expense of what PR should be.
I think it’s a little of both.
When I read reports of PR/social media experts speaking at conferences who ask audiences of PR professionals if they know what RSS is and no one raises a hand, I cringe—this isn’t a passing fad, and as communicators, they should be at least familiar with RSS. (But at least they’re there, learning.)
When I read about poorly crafted news releases, sent en masse to bloggers, I cringe. That’s not a rookie mistake anymore; it’s willfully ignoring a changing landscape.
Bad writing is everywhere, it’s an epidemic in our society and it is tragic that many in a profession of communicators cannot write well or clearly. Cringe.
But when I read blog posts about how horrible it is that everyone in PR isn’t completely engaged and up to their eyeballs in all of the new social networks and so on, I cringe at that too.
Strumpette is correct; PR is about presenting a client to the public. The variety of clients and client objectives presents a wide array of how this should be accomplished.
It’s ridiculous to say every client should engage full-force in all that is social media. It’s equally ridiculous to tell every client to eschew any form of social media for some “higher art” PR. As every client is unique, so to should be the mix in their PR portfolio—and that mix should match their objectives. This means giving careful thought to which audiences of the public need to be reached on any given campaign.
The audience and the issue should also dictate the tone used. Both formal and casual exchanges have their places. Don’t wear a ball gown to build a Habitat for Humanity home, and don’t wear a ripped tee and flip flops to dinner at Le Cirque. Use the correct tone for the context.
The PR profession is changing, there’s no doubt about that. It can be a good thing too—the medium of blogs can force a change in transparency that is needed. PR practitioners can use blogs as an excuse to say no to the no-news news releases that clients sometimes want, by explaining that such nonsense is quickly called out by bloggers.
PR isn’t just about pushing a message out to the public; it also needs to understand the public response to that message. So, the “conversation” (established through social media) is important. But the “conversation” shouldn’t be the only objective either. Not everyone is participating in these new tools, and those of us who are in this space every day I think can get a little myopic about the significance of social media to the broader public.
We need balance. Real change can begin when all-or-nothing protestations stop.