Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being relevant - PR does not need to be

On Friday I will be involved in a CIPR Senior practitioners round table breakfast. Of course it is going to be fun meeting up with Hugh Birley, Justin Hayward, Larry Webber, and Michael Blowers among others.

What can one say in such highly respected company.

I suppose a lot of what I want to (say is summed up in David Dunkley Gyimah's video and web site. The video is the winning International Jury independent video journalist award held in Berlin called 8 Days.

Against a backdrop of:

Declining (media ad) sales figures; increasing pressure from multimedia news deliveries; citizen journalism; Philip Meyer's assertion that newspapers are heading towards redundancy; and the BBC's plans to introduce a more localised form of news in the regions, what do you do if you're a newspaper publisher?
The story is of how eight local newspaper journalists learned to create video news stories.

What I find compelling about this is the speed and extent to which local newspaper journalists can bring television style reporting to their 'newspaper' 'readerships'.

Charlie Westberg , Cleveland Police's veteran media manager was deeply involved (and notes that Cleveland Police now knows it will have to alter the press conference room to accommodate this new breed of print journos with cameras). It was a learning experience for him too and he also found out that the new breed of 'print' journalists could also use CCTV footage because now they are videojournalists.

You see, my view is that the PR professional does not have to change. The 'press release by post or email... phone call... I will get back to you...' model still exists.

It does not have to change.

The journalists and publications will change but PR's don't have to.

They may become less relevant when their unchanging ways are set against Alan Yentob's programme on BBC1 last night. Yentob met Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web - and explored how TBL's creativity has fuelled the creativity of millions of others.

He showed Dandy blogger Dickon Edwards and sex blogger Abby Lee; the hardcore members of the Arctic Monkeys message board; masked animator David Firth - whose cartoons have been watched by millions on the web - and Ewan Macdonald, the young Scot who wrote the millionth entry in Wikipedia - all feature alongside figures such as veteran director Ken Russell - currently making a film to upload to YouTube.

I know there are those in PR who still want to use paper; who believe that this online craze is a fad or marketing or just not for them. So be it.

How will they respond to the video journalist? How will they be relevant to the Arctic Monekey, David Firth and Ken Russell generation? Is it by being relevant to the Daily Telegraph generation housed as it is in a new multi media press centre?

Valerie Grove of The Times puts this point of view:
Like Paxo sneering at Newsnight’s podcast, I recoil at infinite choice/infinite accessibility. If “too much information” is now a conversational mantra, why unleash more of it? Who wants a Christmas round-robin from everyone on the planet? Yentob gave us a glimpse of the website someone has created in his name (Darth Yentob) and countered with his own online version of his virtual self — tall, skinny, smooth-suited, able to dance and fly: “the possibilities are infinite”. What fresh hell is this? He left me baffled, and happy to flee back to my finite world.
It's an understandable argument but its flaw is that she wrote it on The Times web site a long day before the print version hits London's Gentleman's Clubs. Her argument failed in its delivery.

For the publisher it is print, web, sound, video, blog, wiki, virtual space as well as conference, exhibition and bound keepsake annual. Mix and match at will to get eyeballs and those elusive advertising shillings, groats, pounds or euros.

The internet will account for a fifth of all UK advertising revenue by 2009, and will almost match the amount spent on TV advertising, according to figures from ZenithOptimedia. The group's Advertising Expenditure Forecast reveals that the UK has the world’s highest proportion of online ad revenues, at 13.5%. The need for publishers to be online is compelling. It is where to advertise and is a place where tempting people to your web site or other internet medium is critical. More on-line editorial vehicles means more opportunities to sell advertising. Its quite simple.

“Every pound withdrawn from traditional media either to be saved or spent online, where supply is in handsome surplus, exerts more deflationary pressure on the total market,” said Group M in a recent report on the British ad market. “And if online proves more productive, advertisers have the option of investing less.”

These media bucks that are powering the move online is aimed at a very active audience. On average, Britons spend 23 hours a week on the Internet, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, says the New York Times. The Internet accounts for about a quarter of Britons’ time spent with all media, according to Citigroup, nearly double the percentage in the United States. Americans use their computers an average of 14 hours a week, reported by Nielsen Media Research.

Does this mean that the PR industry can afford not to respond. Yes absolutely.

Does this mean that it will be relevant?

Oh yes, perhaps I can suggest that there are compelling reasons for the adoption of social media without the PR industry having to get involved as bloggers or podcasters or vloggers. They have to get involved because their primary journalistic publics have to be online and have to be able to use social media tools. Commercially the driver is too big not to. We just have to create the tools that will make life easier for journalists.

It is just that normal PR practice 20 century style is changing. The press release, for example is being updated and in a variety of forms.

The further opportunity of using social media for direct interactions with our constituencies is just a bonus. A big one, but a bonus.