PR Is Facing Challenges, But They’re NOT Insurmountable!
Does the public relations industry face challenges? In a word, yes.
Why? In part, because public perception of the role of PR ranges from a complete lack of understanding of what public relations actually is, to the idea that PR consists of nothing but creating “buzz” or “spin”… or worse.
“Ironically, public relations has a huge PR problem: people use it as a synonym for BS. ‘PR types.’ We all know what that means: they’re the used car salesmen of the corporate world,” say Doc Searls and David Weinberger, authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto.
Or, how about this?
“What I have finally come to understand is that P.R. people are paid to twist reality into pretzels and convince you that they are fine croissants. At some point, they actually believe their own concoctions.” Bruce Buschel, The New York Times.
Now wait just a minute.
As PR professionals we know the truth. Public relations, while facing challenges, is an industry with an honorable history, filled with talented, truthful and ethical individuals who work really hard every day to:
- Tell a brand’s story through both traditional and new media channels
- Manage investor relations and communications
- Build relationships with media, bloggers and industry influencers
- Help create strategies to address the next crisis—online or off
- Guide companies and organizations through those crises when they happen, as they happen
- Create content in a growing number of formats including written, video, audio and visual
- Monitor and manage reputations on and offline
- Coach clients in how to handle on-camera interviews and tough questions
- Stay abreast of changing industry trends
- Educate clients and coworkers on new tools and technology
- Measure and evaluate the effectiveness of each campaign and initiative and translate the data into understandable language
And so much more.
And yes. Doing this job in the midst of the current digital revolution can be…challenging.
Yet, “PR professionals know, of course, that their job is to build meaningful relationships with their stakeholders. However, doing so today means reaching them through paid, earned, owned, and shared media — understanding how all of these channels work, the content each requires, and how to piece it all together into an integrated plan,” says Steve Radick, Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner.
And we know that good PR is “…understanding who your target audience is, what you’re trying to achieve (be it members, subscriptions, sales, etc.), and then creating and implementing a holistic PR strategy that works towards these ends,” says Social PR Strategist Shonali Burke, founder of Shonali Burke Consulting.
Sure, public relations is evolving in response to the digital revolution and to the huge changes rumbling through our global economy. As in other industries, some of us are leading the charge and some of us are moving more slowly toward the future. But the industry is changing, working to integrate the new tools and technology into its processes—and to educate the public and its own members about the benefits it brings to the table today.
And it’s up to us to address the challenges and help tell the PR story.
Like many industries trying to stay abreast of global market changes and wave-upon-wave of new technology, PR faces many challenges today and in the future. What might some of those be?
1. The Mobile Mind Shift
The importance of optimizing for mobile means thinking through how brands fit into consumer mobile usage. It’s not enough to simply think through how a site appears on a mobile device.
2. Hyper-Personalized Content
More and more we’re seeing information that is hyper-personalized and sent through the right channel at the right time. This trend will only continue to grow as technology continues to advance.
3. A “Glocal” Industry
Glocalization, thinking globally and acting locally, is taking over as stakeholders look for support in their immediate neighborhood, while understanding market conditions mean understanding geographic and cultural specifics.
4. Real-Time Crisis Monitoring
According to CyberAlert.com, “Nearly 30% of company crises spread internationally within an hour, and over two-thirds of crises gain international reach within 24 hours.”
Most experts in crisis management agree that it isn’t a matter of how a company or organization will experience a crisis, but a matter of when.
5. The Death of Traditional Journalism
Traditional journalism, once seen as the “gatekeeper” of information and access to audiences, has changed utterly. PR is still finding its footing in communicating effectively and building relationships with members of traditional and new media.
Whether or not brands like or understand it, the new digital order is forcing transparency. The only effective crisis strategies include transparency and honesty, while the risks of losing control over negative information continue to rise.
Measurement has become increasingly important as brands seek verification that public relations is effective in helping reach organizational goals. The industry is redefining how and what we can and should measure. PR is going to have to include measurement as a core offering going forward.
8. The Power of Images
Visual literacy and visual communication continue to drive both communications and sales in today’s marketplace. In the future, we will likely see a massive increase in utilization of video content. The power of imagery, while always known, continues to grow and demand for video grows right alongside it.
9. Brand Values
Brands and organizations are increasingly including their values in their communications as consumers are drawn to cause-based brands. Communicating the brand’s values to its core audiences using multiple channels will become more and popular.
10. Integrated Communications
As the boundaries between disciplines blur and merge, companies and brands will move to tear down the silos between departments in order to measure and improve ROI.
“In a connected world companies and brands can’t tell and live different stories…they must provide the public with one face and one story line,” says Boris Beker in his post.
Truthfully? The challenges faced by the public relations industry include more than the 10 reviewed by both Boris Beker and CyberAlert. But they work well to start the discussions not only on how public relations is challenged, but how each and every one of us, individually and as an industry, can help overcome those challenges and misperceptions.
“But, of course, the best of the people in PR are not PR Types at all. They understand that they aren’t censors, they’re the company’s best conversationalists,” say Doc Searls and David Weinberger in The Cluetrain Manifesto. “Their job — their craft — is to discern stories the market actually wants to hear, to help journalists write stories that tell the truth, to bring people into conversation rather than protect them from it.”
“In the age of the Web where hype blows up in your face and spin gets taken as an insult, the real work of PR will be more important than ever,” they conclude.
And boy are they right on that one.
What is your greatest challenge in PR today, and how do you work to overcome it? Is there something we’ve missed in this—what would you add?
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