Song remains the same, with new instruments

New_musical_instruments Catching up on my reading after a hectic month capped off by attendance at D5 and a client planning meeting in Denver, I found Brian Solis’s account of a panel he chaired at the Web 2.0 Expo on PR 2.0 versus traditional PR.  It was an interesting discussion that covered some of the same questions as a Boston PR roundtable I participated in that was hosted a couple months ago by PR Week.  The cut-to-the-chase question that summarizes much of the theorizing is whether there will even be a need for PR agencies now that companies are communicating directly with their customers through social media, blogs and other means.  One of my press buddies said he gets the same question on a regular basis about the ongoing need for traditional publications, particularly the computer trades. 

Sometimes it pays to be a grizzled veteran who has seen many shifts in the tech industry we live in and the PR profession we practice.  Are there changes?  Absolutely.  Do they obviate the need for good PR practitioners and solid journalists?  I don’t think so. 

The Web 2.0 panel on PR had some great discussion of how things have changed.

Donna: PR is still alive but it needs to morph. PR 2.0 is less about being ‘corporate’ and more about being real. In the old days, a few folks acted as the gatekeeper to a company’s brand and were able to control how the media portrayed them. Today, there’s less control and more to manage. I think that presents a huge opportunity and a learning curve for PR.

I actually think the PR agencies — the good ones — stand the best chance of doing the morphing that is required to embrace this new approach.  They already understand collaboration because we work in teams — internally and, as needed, with our clients and their clients.  We are all about flexibility and good communication if we want to survive and thrive.  And we understand that we cannot control everything.  Agency PR people completely understand that the best laid plans and ideas may not see the light of day because the client just may not be able to get approval for them from their customers or their corporate suite — or may have some constraints related to corporate governance issues.  We know how to move to Plan B without flinching (ok, maybe we send a wistful glance over our left shoulders at that brilliant Plan A that stays on the cutting room floor . . . )  So we are naturally quick studies and always are on the lookout for new ways we can get our clients’ messages, products and services out to their primary audiences to increase sales and value.  This is about new channels and new tools; we’re using them ourselves, so we understand the power and we also recognize the amount of effort required to use them well.

I think the PR people most at risk in this new era are the ones who are part of companies who believe that corporate communications is about protecting the executives, blocking access, and totally controlling the message.  I view it as closed loop PR versus an open dialogue with influencers and the customers. When you are trying to build communities, you can forget about control.  The best you can do is provide guidelines and education so the ride is as safe as you can possibly make it.  The smart companies are getting on board — gingerly in some cases, but they are facing their fears and taking more chances.  And they are continuing to lean on their valued PR counsel to do it.   It’s proving to be an interesting journey.