Monday, August 22, 2011

Stepping aside from press and social media PR

The nature of public relations as the agent which provides structured concepts and understanding of mean by which ideas are exchanged and flourish is as old as humanity. It is the fundamental which distinguishes civilised man from social animal. It allows man to productively invest the majority of time in relationship building in order that social interactions can cumulatively enhance human existence.

So what does PR do?

  • It acts as an agent
  • By explicating structured concepts
  • Making them available and pertinent using structured means
  • With capabilities that extend well beyond social grooming
  • In a process with relationship productivity
  • Which accelerates evolution beyond biological development
The trouble is that people in PR do not recognise this high calling. It is, for many, far too grand. For some it is even hard to comprehend.

If we don’t look at the stars but look at the functions we can see the work and effects of the continuum.

The media proxy is a tool. PR in its widest sense, is ambivalent about which media it uses. We have become transfixed by the press and press relations (so called) skills. They are useful. It is helpful to have people who do it well. They are functionaries (and mostly very nice people). They are infrequently people who understand PR. They have many solutions to problems - and they are all called press relations.

In the 1960’ PR was much more about politics. It was important because its application formed the bulwark between the totalitarianism of Russion Communism and democracy.

If you look at the practitioner of a certain age like Doug Smith, Peter Walker and many more, they began life as political agents. Some became lobbyists others worked in-house and others ran agencies.

One of the skills that were needed by these practitioners was an ability to work with journalists.  But by no means the only skill.

This was an age when wars were won because we did NOT use propaganda.

Many of the issues were big and  global. A period of Cold War (and Cuban Missile Crisis) were real events. The civil rights movement, the environment, women's demands for equality, the space race and the landing on the moon, as well as the Vietnam War, Mods and Rockers and the Beatles made our lives even more psychedelic! 
For the first time in a generation we had disposable incomes, holidays and consumerism.

The forms of communication included protests and marches, the largest political youth movement in a liberal democracy (the Young Conservatives) met weekly in every constituency in the land. Trades Union committees also met weekly and held open air events in most high streets. Young Farmers was a publicity outlet for the farming industry and there were any number of such clubs from the Chamber of Commerce to the First Thursday group (young marrieds meeting once per month). People went out to meetings. The PR people of the time made sure that their client was represented at such meetings. There was, of course, the press. It reported on these happenings. Sometimes, people like me invited them to meetings or sent editor’s letters. Occasionally we wrote leaders.

Mass Television changed a lot of this.

In 1962, the Pilkington Report  recommending a 2nd BBC programme, separate BBC service for Wales and the restructuring of ITV. First transatlantic TV programmes became possible.

At the same time there was a printing revolution. The stars of Corination Street, with a viewing public of 21 million in 1962, deserved their own spotlight, human interest stories and vox pop magazines to give viewers added information and, it transpired increased interest.

In July 1962, the Sunday Times was reporting 'news' and selling 1,110,457 copies, a rise of 143,397 on the previous half-year. Women's Own, which told of the happenings in Corrie, sold 3 million copies with 120 staff.

Photocopiers, lazer printers, web offset, gravure, colour in daily newspapers,  and the ability to print fast and cheaply brought a concurrent revolution.

PR had to change and the easy, but not nearly as effective, form of PR was to use the now fast growing print media, radio and television. It was indirect but productivity was phenomenal. One article could reach every member of the First Thursday movement. Wow!

It was a communications revolution!

No one went to Young Conservative meetings any more. They were too busy watching Ena Sharples or reading Private Eye.  

The growth in the numbers of titles in the consumer and trade sectors made it quite hard to maintain share of voice in the 1970’s and so PR was directed away from community influence to printed press editorial volume (and for a time a massive burst of fly posting).

In effect, much of PR became press agentry.

And, by 1980, it had become dead easy. We had learned to manage it.

Events, case studies, features and editorial schedules gave any organisation that wanted: presence and huge share of voice.

In the background, there still were the people working to have effects on corporate relationships.

They had work to do in PR. It was manifest as social, economic, political, institutional, community, internal employees and the Board relationship development.

To fulfil the role of PR, there always was a need to have some form of public presence. Speaking to a Young Farmers branch or presenting the “Retailer of the year” award at the local Chamber of Trade Christmas bash still figured (and still do figure) in the range of communication channels used by organisations that have good PR.

So, what happens as one media vanishes and another emerges?
They tend not to vanish but they do morph.

PR people have to change.

Just as TV stopped a form of social interaction in its tracks, So too, the internet cast a cloud over press, radio and TV as the premier medium.

Just as meetings still happen (and protests and and the Chamber of Trade “Retailer of the year” awards), press radio and TV will continue and will continue to have some relevance and importance. It is yet another capability needed by PR to do its job.

Like the 1960s, the new social media ‘PR’ will be full of hype and difficult to understand and within a couple of decades will be easy.

In the background, there will still be people working to have effects on corporate relationships.

They will work and or direct PR in areas such as social media, press relations and meeting   with social, economic, political, institutional, community, internal employees and the Board. They too will use such tools as are sensible to achieve the high goal which affects the evolution of mankind.

So, is the internet different?

To my mind, the internet is different. There is a limit to the range of social media but the internet is much more fundamental.

For PR, the internet is as important as print and television and much more.

It is versatile, has many manifestation,can be part of a personal activity and can affect the world at large. Its many applications in the higher idea of public relations will make it very important.

It is different to print radio and television because it allows development at a faster rate (it is, in its own right, a self fulfilling form of PR).

So, to the question.

If you define PR as press agentry, it’s not going to give you much of a living in the future. If PR continues to act as the midwife of human development, its future is both secure and ever more significant.

In addition, for those organisations that use PR for its real purpose, their future is both assured and very exciting.