29 March 2007

Introducing the exception that proves the rule...

Here's an American speaking sense! A snippet from an interview with Brian Solis, the man behind the PR 2.0 blog (not the James Warren one, obviously...though we reckon he'd probably agree with much of what Solis says). We couldn't have put it better ourselves...

"Many PR people don’t even read the trades that matter to the companies they represent, let alone participate in social media. Social PR does not take the place of traditional PR – and nothing beats relationships.

"I speak about this subject quite a bit, and the only way to get the PR industry to listen is through shock therapy. Why? Because PR people have a horrible reputation that’s in the same boat as lawyers and used car salesmen. Yet there’s little done to correct it outside of the PR echo chamber.

"In the game of social media, PR is not invited to the party. This is because PR, as a whole, is believed to be incapable of engaging at any level that requires believable engagement. After all we are spin doctors. We don’t get it. We can’t write. We like adjectives. We are simply spammers of information and not at all able to speak to influencers (or the people formerly known as the audience) because we’re too dumb to understand what we’re talking about and why it’s important. And, we try to always control the message.

"All this because as an industry, we have not done a good job of PR for PR. Therefore I encourage those who really want to learn, to participate without an agenda, to help change this dreadful perception.

"It’s critical that we understand the infrastructure of social media and respect it in order to participate in the dialogue. And more importantly, if you don’t have the expertise to contribute from a professional standpoint then don’t bother. And I’m not talking about PR, I’m referring to their understanding of the product and market related to the company you represent."

This, to me, is issue no.1 for our industry moving forwards. We talked about it a couple of months ago in a rather gloomy look forward to 2007...how social media was supposed to be the thing that truly brought PR to the fore; that allowed us to demonstrate our expertise as communicators. But it's not happening, because we just can't allow ourselves to let go of the message.

No doubt there'll be a few who'll post comments telling me that we're over-reacting, and that nobody reads blogs or listens to podcasts anyway so it doesn't really matter. But of course it does...social media isn't going away and - in different guises, sure - it will be increasingly influential in all markets. But, once again, as an industry we're going to let a great opportunity slip through our fingers.


Anonymous said...

Truth is, PR isn't invited to the party, he's right. The whole point of social media is that people can escape the 'controlled' world of printed media, where editorial is influenced by advertising spend and/or the content is pre-massaged by PR departments.

The moment PR people start messing about with social media, either admitting they have an agenda or masquarading as 'ordinary people' the game is up. It is virtually impossible to disguise spin in this environment, which means you get rumbled quickly and you are frozen out.

The worst case scenario - and I'm not sure if there are examples of this happening already - is that blogs or other forums will become tainted by PR, the organisers will feel they have to over-regulate and edit in order to maintain authenticity, and suddenly the whole ethos of social media is out the window.

All we can do is help our clients understand the new dynamic, how it effects opinion and influences reputation, how to join is as 'ordinary people' from time to time ... but make no mistake, we are observers, not participants.

....the world's leading.... said...

Agree with much of what you say but it's a shame, isn't it, that PR has just become about "spin" and assumed falsehoods? At a pure level, social media should be a great way for organisations to build relationships with their various publics.

But PR isn't pure, is it? We've become sullied. And there's no going back.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and true post, but I think the words that rang truest for me were:

"Many PR people don’t even read the trades that matter to the companies they represent"

I can't tell you how frustrating it is to watch new PR executives think its acceptable to pitch to a magazine they haven't read. And thats coming from inside the agency! Its incredible that journalists are ever nice to PR people when some of our industry show such a blatant disregard for them.

The thing with Web 2.0 is that we are at the point where you can't just inherit an out of date press list of bloggers or sites to watch from the old exec you replaced. You have to investigate, read and observe before you can contribute - but if as an industry we can't even be bothered to read our target magazines, I don't imagine we will ever conquer blogs.

James Cherkoff said...

Oh good grief, get over yourselves. Social media is a new public forum - not something that comes along every day. And guess what? Just like every other public forum it has its own ways of doing things. Surely it's not beyond the ability of the largely bright folk who work in the PR industry to keep track of what is occuring and establish some new methods that do work....

....the world's leading.... said...

Hi James...I do love it when the dinosaurs turn up..."Don't worry lads, it's just a bit of a cold snap..."

james warren said...

haven't commented here for months. come to think of it i haven't blogged for months. i saw brian solis at a party in SF a month or so ago. we ignored each other spectacularly

just as with 'old school' media relations, there is a right way and a wrong way to engage with social media - and i don't think i'm giving too much away when i say the most important thing to do to successfully engage is to join in and 'come to terms with losing control' (TM Web Boy), blah blah blah

what i find particularly interesting about all the doom-mongering going on is that the rest of the marketing mix is shit-scared of social media. indeed, among our marketing cousins a perception exists that it is only PR that 'gets' social media and can make it work. of course everytime someone (ahem) makes a pig's ear of an online campaign, the whole industry gets it in the neck. but for every high-profile screw-up there are many successes - and of course they are all the more successful because they're not put under a spotlight as a PR-generated success. ultimately, i guess this all comes down to measurement - that and the rather juicy question that asks how a PR agency can make any money when the most effective thing it can do is step back from 'managing communications...' but that's a whole other discussion

finally, i'd argue that *all* online media is moving towards the adoption of 'social' techniques/ologies, so this is less about just social media, more about all online comms. christ, i do go on, don't i?

Brian Solis said...

Thank you for including me in this discussion....I appreciate it. Great post and the comments are incredibly accurate and brilliant! In fact, there's more value in the post and these comments than many of the combined marketing blogs out there.

Managing communications and participating in it are two different things these days. And for now, I would say that running them simultaneously will generate the most effective campaigns today - specifically in regards to measurement.

So, in my view, social Media is not simply a public forum...it is the socialization of information in general combined with the tools that enable it. It is a form of media and it is also a technology platform. Eventually we will drop "social" from the term, as it will all just become media in the future.

To James' point, everything is moving in this direction, so it's more important than ever to sh!t or get off the pot.

There is an entire movement occuring out there that is rapidly leaving many marketers behind - not just PR.

But don't worry, it's not the end of the world for us, just a real game of survival of the fittest. The weak players should get out...it would be one sure way to enhance the reputation of PR.

Also, James, would love to have met you in SF. As you know first hand, these events can be a bit overwhelming...seems that there are at least two every night. Wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that I ignored you...send me an email next time you're in town. brian [at] future-works [dot] com

Geoff_Livingston said...

Hey, don't know how it works in the UK, but across the pond we usually get an attribution for our blogs when we have multiple paragraphs quoted from it. The interview was taken from Diary of an Ad Man at www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog.