PR for dummies?

Nicholas Carr who has in the past questioned with some success the value of technology, has again scored a bit of a stir, this time by exploring the impact the Internet is having on the way we think and our ability to concentrate. His article “Is the Internet making us stupid?” is published in Atlantic Magazine. The article uses a mix of anecdotes and new research on the topic and makes a good case. In essence he argues that our brains are adapting to the way the Internet serves up information, making us less interested in long articles and books. His point was well made when I noticed I was skimming through the article…

If we assume Carr is correct, then his point has some important implications for those of us involved with managing perceptions of companies, organizations and individuals. At its simplest level it reinforces the view that information needs to be disseminated in bite size chunks. People will no longer read two page news stories and sadly they will no longer read two page news analyses. Instead they want their information one paragraph at a time. This brings in to question the most basic of PR tools, the press release. The press release has been questioned in recent years. Carr’s article potentially buries the notion of a long press release and calls on companies to create one paragraph news announcements that in turn link to other documents that provide the extended detail.

If you follow this ‘bite sizing’ of communication to its logical conclusion with other PR tools you soon start to see a very different world. What you realize is that companies will soon avoid trying to communicate anything complex and instead find ways of breaking the information down into a series of announcements that people can absorb. Indeed, some companies may find themselves saying remarkably little and instead focusing on get snippets of bad news about their competitors on the Internet.

Aside from testing the ability of PR people to tell stories in seconds rather than minutes, we are also being challenged to create ways for people to get their information that are more rewarding. The very act of web surfing has become tiresome. High speed internet connections, coupled with great search tools mean we get our information on demand. Put another way, there are fewer and fewer gaps between information, giving us less time to think and make sense of the content. The companies that can somehow reverse this trend and allow us time to really absorb information, rather than have it wash over us, will ultimately win. To do this we need to think not simply about the content but also the tools we use to get information across. This is something the advertising industry has already been working on for decades. Indeed they are masters of dealing with short attention spans. I would therefore encourage all PROs to take a long look at the tools this industry uses and see if there are ways PR can be adapted to a SASW (short attention span world). I’d give you some of my own thoughts but I suspect most of you have stopped reading by now and have moved on to another blog…


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