PR needs a rethink

PR is all about managing people’s perception of a person, brand or organization.  In the last 20 years that has meant getting them good press, having them show up in the right places, connecting them to the right issues etc.  Today, people’s perception of a brand can change because of a tweet, a Facebook comment, an Amazon.com review or a blog post.  Indeed at a dinner this week I was told a story of a startup that had been well covered by the WSJ but saw far more customer interest when it appeared on a blog.  In other words for many brands media isn’t necessarily the best route to influencing people’s perceptions.  What struck me when I thought about this is that the change in medium also offers a chance to change the approach we take to perception management.  Today in PR we still focus on persuading content creators (journalists, bloggers etc) to produce material that benefits our clients.  When we produce our own content, it looks awfully like the content these journalists and bloggers would create.  Why?  Because we rarely take a big step back and ask what would it take to make people think of the brand differently.  In other words we use standard techniques that tend to deliver incremental results.  This is not that surprising.  Most of the time we are simply giving our clients what they expect but maybe with a small amount of innovation thrown in.  Indeed if we go too far there is a real risk the client will freak out and hire someone else even if our thinking is amazing.  But let’s assume we can get our clients to be bold (most actually want to be, they just need convincing that a risk is worth taking).  If they’ll take the risk then it could mean us spending their budget on creating some very different content – video, a game, an application, a community on Grouply or Ning.  We may not even talk to an editor or blogger.  Believe it or not some agencies are doing this.  It scared them at first but the clients are loving the results.  Is it PR?  You bet!  Its just not press relations.

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