Those that advocate the view that PR and advertising will be subsumed into a hybrid communication discipline and those who believe the discipline should mint itself a ‘new’ name, like ‘communication professionals’, are in grave danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What about the most basic tenet of PR, that which constitutes it being a discipline that can help organisations change so they better meet society’s expectations?
Are we to lose this fundamental quality that gives PR its overwhelming POD as part of this process of, as a new study implies, ‘dropping the PR’ from what we call ourselves?
These topics of how PR should be termed and how will it evolve in the context of other business communication disciplines were raised again recently by the appearance of Ogilvy PR’s thought provoking Peripheral Visions Study (in itself a terrific example of applying the strategic alliance methodology to gain enhanced credibility, due to its partnership with the IABC). The study is based on extensive research amongst Australian PR and communication professionals.
PR and marketing: happy singalong
The notion that public relations and advertising will be “merged into hybrid/blended agencies” was one finding (60% agreement), but from this I’ll extrapolate that this belief is not just relevant to agencies. I can’t see how agencies can exist in this hybrid form if the reality isn’t reflected in the manner in which in-house communication teams are organised.
However, this raises the interesting question of whether agencies do now, and should in the future, reflect the way organisations structure their business communication (e.g. marketing and PR, primarily) teams. To the best of my knowledge PR and marketing, though clearly connected, genuinely run their own shows. And this is reflected in agency structures (i.e. PR and marketing delineation).
Of course, the spanner in this mix is a snotty little ingénue called social media. Everyone is claiming the right to run this show. PR (over marketing) ‘seems’ to have the inside running, but I’d be careful about punting too much on the PR pony. I can envisage social media-specific departments within some organisations, reporting through neither the PR or marketing silo, but direct to whoever has responsibility for all three areas.
There is so much synergy between fundamental aspects of PR and social media that I can’t see the logic in the two being separated, but marketers can be a self-focused bunch and if it can help turn a buck, they’ll want it.
Two of the big issues that will need to be addressed if blending the PR and marketing disciplines into an integrated ‘brains trust’ are:
- Marketing tends to be more about brand; PR tends to be more about reputation
- Best practice PR is based on two-way symmetrical communication; marketing is predicated on turning a buck. The two don’t always align.
Whilst two-way symmetrical communication is a pipe dream for many and not commercial enough, for me at least it provides an ethical, inspiring target to aim for. Based on the two-way symmetrical mindset, I wonder if PR is actually anti-economic growth, based on the supposition that growth has a greater upside for the well off and increases the disenfranchisement of the less well off. Economic growth also tends to come with a larger population and accelerated environmental degradation.
As Jonathan Franzen wonders very, very loudly in his most recent riff-fest, Freedom, is an increasing global population the root of all evil?
Marketing, of course, is all for economic growth, more money making products, more money in the pockets of those who own companies etc.
It’s a political, social and moral discussion. Can PR and marketing ever really sleep together in comfort? The s*x might be tempestuous and astounding, but will they respect each other in the morning? Perhaps more to the point in the longer term, what will the kids be like? Social media freaks and born with an iPhone in their hands, that’s for certain.
Can you blog in utero?
Giving PR a new name
76% of respondents to the report’s survey agree that we’ll refer to ourselves as communication professionals rather than PR professionals. Kieran Moore, Ogilvy PR Australia’s CEO and my inordinately intelligent and insightful ex-boss, got it right when she said PR needs to redefine rather than rename itself.
“While we don’t agree with dropping ‘PR’ from our discipline, we think this shows that companies, organisations and individuals are demanding authentic communications advice that focuses on the reality of reputation – in the real world context of business and organisational needs,” said Kieran.
It isn’t an easy issue to come up with an answer to. So many people think PR is media relations alone, due to the evolution of the discipline, that I can’t envisage a day when the term public relations will ever be perceived as what it really is:
A wide ranging business communication discipline that, on a strategic level, encompasses PR, strategic planning, marketing communication approaches and more, whilst on a tactical level is everything from media relations and social media to event management and crisis management to employee communication and positioning.
So I fully empathise with those that want to change the name. But with the wealth of academic work that has been developed to underpin our discipline, including my much-nagged about two-way symmetrical communication hobby horse, I just don’t think it’s worth the agony.
And what the hell is a ‘communication professional’ anyway? As a brand, it pretty much sucks deeply. Marketers will laugh at that brand. It tries to say everything and says nothing.
Muscle up PR pros. Stop bitching at your name and go about fighting for territory and delivering quality.
This is the same way I look at brands. You can call it what you like. You can create whatever logo you want. You can conceptualise the most creative, eye catching ad campaign in the world. But if the product or service itself is weak, then THAT is the brand, that is the outcome and no matter what clever marketing spin you put on it, that product or service will flunk.
And don’t come crying to your PR pro when your lack of rigour in looking at various aspects of your new gun product or service comes back to bite you for some crisis communication or positive media placement. Think bigger picture. Think, in fact, PR 101 two-way symmetrical communication.
Do you think PR should change its name? What are your thoughts on this hybrid communication discipline that it has been posited may emerge? Why all the talk about PR’s name change? What will it change? Is it a superficial, ultimately hollow move, which is basically what I argue, or is it something of greater substance?