Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018

The Future of Public Relations: Demise or Survival

Public Relations

I have recently run into an interesting blog post about the demise of PR called “The Blending Of PR With Marketing Is Its Death,” written by (@soulati ) Jayme Soulati: I too share the concern for the noble profession of Public Relations and its destiny, yet I disagree with Jayme. Let me put things in perspective…

First, a few words about me: just like Jayme, I too share a professional PR background. I have a master degree in Communication and Public Relations and I have worked in the field of pure PR for more than 12 years before switching to the broader level of  using modern communication tools over the internet for PR and marketing purposes. I have taught Communication and PR in college for more than four years, sharing my European-gathered knowledge, passion and experience with American students in South Carolina.

OK, now that I’ve provided my credentials, let me get back to Jayme’s blog post. I share all her thoughts except one: the destiny of PR. It is obvious that Public Relations is struggling to maintain its identity but if you look in the past, it has struggled right from the beginning! So many companies’ CEOs and managers still think of PR as an extension of marketing. It has been a continuous struggle for the PR practitioners to improve the perception of the field up to the point where they would have their own department and not just the corner desk somewhere on the marketing floor. The very basic definition of PR makes it a management function yet its role has most of the time been downplayed. And don’t get me started with the budget aspects… It has always been hard to answer the Marketing Manager’s question thrown out in staff meetings with a smirk on his/her face: “we all know you’re spending money, but did you bring any money in?” Sometimes, in a desperate effort to wipe that smirk off, PR practitioners turned to very questionable ways to measure ROI, like unrealistic money-value for the advertising-equivalent of the articles generated in the media.

Lousy Ninja

But despite all these, PR managed to built a strong identity, based on the list of traditional  core activities and values very well presented by Jayme in her blog post. More recently, PR practitioners have started to adopt the Internet and its assorted bag of modern communication tools. Vocus, for example, one of the biggest PR platforms, has integrated social media features in a well-rounded set of tools accompanying the original media and press releases distribution services, in tandem with powerful email services. This combination makes it a PR platform on steroids, but still a PR platform at its core. The same is true for Cision, another powerful platform.

With complexity comes confusion. Young practitioners major in PR and Communication and try to conquer the job market. It’s tough to position yourself on a competitive market when you have little room to play with your brand. They are what their diplomas say they are and that’s it. Maybe as a reaction to these limitations, we now experience a new approach, a variation of the standard nomenclature: the gurus, self-titled specialists and experts in social media, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, digital marketing and so on. These people have little compassion for the standard job nomenclature and even less compassion for those people crazy enough to hang a student loan by their neck for the rest of their lives just for a piece of paper calling them Public Relations practitioners. What they want is recognition and paychecks. They hide behind fancy-shmancy words and use the lingo, the jargon, better than they are able to use the English grammar. They have no mercy for the faint of hearts and they are willing to stretch out their self-designated expertise over any field related to communication. So they become social media experts, Public Relations geniuses, digital marketing gurus, search engine optimization ninjas.

PR and the lionsDoes this mean the Public Relation field is dying? Does this loud noise they make sound the demise of the public relations as a profession? I don’t think so! Companies still need and will need for a long time effective relations with all their publics. They still need effective media relations and smart plans to manage crisis. They still need great annual reports and well crafted corporate messages distributed over the internet. What I think we see here is just a mere confusion they create between the communication process and the communication channels and tools. Time will come, sooner than later, when all these phony professionals will prove their value and enough money will be lost by companies they work for. Time will come when businesses will understand the need for “the real deal”, the real PR practitioners who master both the theory and the practice of effective relations building through communication. Will we still call it Public Relations? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean the breed is gone. It will just be a more adapted species in the universal Darwinian fight for survival. Maybe the lion will lose its mane and will be a little slimmer and faster and maybe we won’t call it a lion anymore, but it will still be a lion. Just a better one and more adapted. So all you phonies out there, yes, you: gurus, and ninjas, beware! You may kill the name of the PR, but your fate is doomed and your stinky race will be wiped out by the real professionals, call them what you may!