The emergence and subsequent high-velocity take-up of social technologies and online publishing platforms has fundamentally changed the media landscape forever, disrupting many industries along the way, but perhaps none more so than media, marketing and communications (and the various sub-sets thereof).
‘Joe and Josephine Public’ have free access to online tools that give them a voice. The genie is out of the bottle, and it ain’t going back in! This turn of events has forced companies and organisations to seriously take notice of ‘the people’, to be more open and transparent in their communications with consumers.
Some are adapting well to this new scenario, but many are not.
For decades, traditional media was the obsession for PR firms, and rightly so. It was the only effective way to reach people en masse with your story and message. But not any more; today we have a vast array of channels through which to communicate with our desired audience, channels I might add that require a different way of thinking to what we’ve done traditionally.
Now, this does not mean generating editorial exposure through the media is obsolete — far from it, the media today remains a critically important means to generate visibility of, and talk around, causes, issues, products and brands.
But the art of media relations has definitely changed in light of severe disruption to traditional newsrooms, something Simon Holt, editor-in-chief of The Brisbane Times, articulates well in his excellent new book, 101 Ways to Connect with Modern Newsrooms (I recommend checking out Simon’s interview on the Brand Newsroom podcast).
Pockets of evidence
So we know change is occurring at a rapid rate, but are we changing as an industry?
Yes, I do see a lot of pockets of evidence of this happening in the marketplace, which is really heartening. But a nagging question for me remains: Are we adapting quickly enough?
Personally, I don’t think we are.
I was speaking to one experienced PR guy earlier this month and he proffered every excuse under the sun as to why his clients shouldn’t be on social media, but unfortunately he didn’t have a cogent explanation as to why this was the case.
NOT: “I’ve tried to get them on social but they flat-out refuse to do it”; it was just an unwillingness on his part to even float the idea. I suspect it’s because said practitioner is clinging steadfastly to the ‘old’ way of doing things. Anything else is too much hard work and requires a change in well-established habits.
This concerns me, and unfortunately I hear similar stories with alarmingly regularly.
New PR methods
To be fair, I also often hear from in-house PR practitioners expressing a keenness to explore new methods for reaching out to, and communicating with, their organisation’s constituents, but unfortunately they do find it difficult getting through anything of substance with executives higher up the line.
The issue here might be they’re not strategic enough in their planning, nor compelling enough in the way they’re pitching it to the senior executive.
But let’s be frank, we’ve all been stonewalled by risk-averse business leaders at some point in our PR career and while it might be the fault of senior executives, this is not always the case necessarily.
We need to be cognisant the issue might not be with the business leadership group but from within our own ranks, the powers-that-be in the communications department who — for whatever reason, whether they are fearful or apathetic — are happy to stick to the pre-social age way of doing things.
In any case, if you are a PR practitioner who is stuck working for an organisation where either the head of PR (or equivalent title) is not open to change, or it’s those higher up the chain of command that are at fault — or maybe it’s both — perhaps you might want to give some thought as to whether you continue to work for that entity. I say this because there’s every chance you’re being held back professionally.
The PR industry is moving forward in response to the disruptive state it finds itself. If you’re not on that bus and moving forwards with it, you’re falling behind and undoubtedly will need to play catch-up at some stage.
This does not augur well for your PR career.
Why spend 2-3 years at an organisation that steadfastly refuses to change the way it communicates with the outside world (and potentially reinforcing bad habits while you’re at it) when you could be learning new skills — and gaining valuable experience — adapting to change within a company or organisation that ‘gets it’?
Do you think being held back in your existing role is going to make you a more attractive proposition for your next professional gig?
Food for thought!
Before signing off, let me stress I also hear good stories where strong PR leaders are having a big influence on the organisation they work for (and likewise, PR agencies too, if they’re working with progressive-thinking clients). These leaders are adapting to the new media landscape and are given the time and budget required to have an impact, which is an ideal scenario for the up-and-coming PR professional.