Monday, March 19, 2007

The teaching of PR

There is conflict between what is happening in an Internet Mediated world and PR Theory:

I would like to explore, and do not have the licence to expound that with 1.1 billion (yes - billion) observers of corporate (and personal) activity, online PR is set against a practice that self evidently undermines scream management, spin marketing, bling PR, conscienceless and conscience driven CSR and privileged lobbies. For every propagandist, there is a counter propagandist: for every view, a countervailing argument. The wisdom of crowds is at once powerful and scrutinised. Where we teach Public Affairs the Internet offers the perpetual revolution (Mao lives - Zittrain proclaims the Cultural Revolution). The influence of the Internet on so many authors we use for teaching is a problem for a module that encourages online searching. Banish the words 'market segment' (unless a segment of one), stakeholder (when everyone can see, change and influence everyone and diversity attacks Freeman's ill founded ideas) and treat 'publics' with care (because a blogger is at the nexus of a relationship cloud that can be tiny or huge and have equality of power and influence in five minutes of global fame)., the web affiliate of New Orleans' Times-Picayune, was awarded the Breaking News Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Katrina. It is a blog and its content was powered by SMS. Can a PR student master (comprehend) SMS mediated blog relations? Even Porter and Grunig have modified their views in the last two years . Then, of course, the very nexus of contracts (Coase, and Easterbrook weep) is dismantled when the reality of Internet agency and porosity etch away at the Intellectual Property of 'the contract' as surely as MP3 downloads and relationships replace conversation (Sonsino) as the driving force so that organisations cease to exist as we know them – proof being three students who, asked to provide a press release as freebie to a friend with a start up web business, have asked for part equity in exchange for an online (social media) PR programme. This is an issue for all PR teaching as we know it. Die press agentry Die! Die! Die!

With so much vested in Marketing, and notably Marketing PR (whatever that is), its disintermediation before our very eyes shows the PR and Marketing Schools suffer from schizophrenia in some style. London is the world leading online advertising capital. The UK is the biggest market for online advertising; Martin Sorrell briefs the City that his empire is not dependant on Advertising and marketing agencies and keeps his share price afloat; Web sites are in slow decline, sex sites are eschewed, social media soars in exponential appeal; relationships conquer all; the brand is an RSS feed; the message is corporate values systems (British corporate value systems are scrutinised by more English speakers in China that in the UK and USA combined). Transparency, agency and porosity is the theoretical core of Web 2.0 and is nearly a decade old and still the marketers believe they have a future and, worse, encourage students to take marketing degrees.

Like many organisations, the CIPR this year ceded its online presence to the UK's PR bloggers. Many of the latter had, individually, more reach and page views that the Institute or the leading trade magazine.

Major companies and brands are in the bottom quartile for online interactive presence despite the best efforts of the likes of Martin Sorrell who are fighting off freely created wiki content for Google ranking despite a massive online budget and not a few millions spent in online advertising.

We are now past the 'does social media change behaviours' we know it does - and more measurably than advertising. We are past page views and need to measure engagement. But these are measures that we still have to learn about and teach.

Online studies undermine 'marketing by numbers' not by the way they are taught or through the content in the modules but by the evidence of the online conversation space. Projection or rejection of brand messages, brand values, semiotics and values is no longer at the disposal of the brand. At best it is available by permission. The power has shifted. Power and influence is now held by a nexus of relationships and all too often they are outside the organisation and the organisation, whether it knows it or not, is changed.