BC Business blog post: The death of PR?

In light of today’s BC Business article, I thought I’d add a few final thoughts.

Many thought I was saying that it’s the death of PR when I closed my firm in August.

What I said is that PR firms and practitioners have to evolve dramatically to meet the changing needs brought on by social media. Old PR strategies aren’t meeting clients’ needs (when I speak of clients I am referring to large scale campaigns, not one-off marketing strategies). Media, both traditional and online,  and consumers expect to receive information at the speed of sound – 24 hours a day, at their convenience. Our industry needs to focus resources on connecting directly with the public more than ever before.

Social media engages enormous audiences in a short amount of time and perception becomes reality very quickly. Tweets and re-tweets can reach as many people instantly as some radio stations reach in a quarter hour. Companies need huge resources to react quickly and senior strategists to identify gaps and provide analysis. Full service PR firms (that use social media) now need a much bigger team to handle a crisis…and there are a lot of costs associated with a bigger size.

The issue clients have with social media is they don’t know how to measure it and they certainly are loathe to pay for it. Traditional PR tactics can be measured – albeit there is a lot of discussion on existing measurement standards – while social media measurement tools are cumbersome and are expensive. On top of it all it takes a lot of manpower to sift through the information flow.

Many corporations are unprepared for the onslaught of social media and have reservations about how to manage it properly. Unfortunately, some choose not to manage it at all because they don’t think they have the resources or the budget line for this new medium. Online comments can lack credibility or may be based on rumours – public companies won’t and can’t comment or speculate on rumours. On the flip side many companies overreact to online comments, overly compensating for small issues rather than saying “I am sorry you had a bad customer experience”.

In a crisis, CEOs are now required to be actors on YouTube – and they are often  not trained or prepared for that the medium.
Look at the “fake” BP twitter site. Hijacking brands is a problem that is very difficult to fix. In my opinion, JetBlue did a fantastic job with their communications in responding to its flight attendant who made a dramatic job exit earlier this summer.

Today companies are dealing with exponentially bigger audiences than ever before. Everyone is a critic. We would need a team at least triple the size we have right now to handle speed of light information broadcast via non-traditional channels like blogs, Facebook, YouTube and USTREAM to name a few. We don’t have the luxury of concise well planned communications, and we certainly don’t have the luxury of waiting until the next day to address an issue.

How do you charge for social media in a crisis? And who wants to pay for something they can’t really wrap their head around? Not many companies are prepared to give an open budget to deal with these issues without having an understanding of what the cost will be. Tricky. But the more important question is what would it cost the brand if companies remain on the sidelines?

It’s not the death of PR but certainly a major shift in the way we need to think.

Mat Wilcox



~ by Wilcox Group Team on September 3, 2010.

3 Responses to “BC Business blog post: The death of PR?”

  1. From my experience working at a global PR firm, many of us have built social media into our crisis communications offerings at the strategic planning side long before any crisis hits and on the tactical side when it comes to real-time monitoring and response. We’re all deploying software that allows for monitoring, workflow management and measurement. And finally, we can scale our teams on a global basis if required.

    The fact that 50,000 people are tweeting about a client crisis in an hour doesn’t mean that all 50,000 want or need a direct response. Triage is important when dealing with social media during a crisis.

    It’s not easy and it’s a work in progress, but by engaging clients in the strategy, planning and training element of social media, it can be a little less scary.

  2. I couldn’t agree more Mat, great write up!

    Measurement and ROI is indeed a big deal to these companies, but I think there is also one more issue at play.

    We work with a lot of Marketing Communications groups at large companies. Many are eager to get in on the social media “action” and many have even obtained budgets to do so. The problem is that they want to look at social media as another promotional channel that they can utilize (or more bluntly – pimp) for their own benefit.

    Looking through their lens, the idea of community, non-corporate-speak and 2-way conversations is not something they are really interested in. Sadly, it mostly comes down to “there are lots of people there, so we need to be there”. We have seen countless examples of companies that create a Facebook or twitter account and then proceed to broadcast out canned-corporate-messaging and product announcements. They want to use the medium as a one-way promotional platform rather than what it really is.

    In the social media ecosystem , companies need to engage the public at a point of relevance. They are not receptive to a corporate message during their game of Farmville or when they are writing on a Friend’s wall in Facebook. On any social platform, people opt into the relationship, but not without good reason.

    Often I wish companies would move social media out of the marketing bucket and put it into the communication, service and feedback bucket. A place in which the public is far more apt to engage – but still only on their terms.

    The corporate outlook is flipped right now – they are trying to figure out what social media can do for them when they should be thinking about what they can do for social media. When it comes to the digital world, the idea of “who’s on first” isn’t a reality any more. You can participate and help to shape dialog, but you can’t control it any more.

  3. Some points:

    – CEOs should be ready to represent the company at any time. Being candid on camera is something a company’s leader should see as an advantage, and a highly effective way of dealing with issues of all sizes. example: McCain as CEO for Maple Leaf.

    – Skill sets will definitely need to change if PR isn’t absorbed by dedicated sites. It should prove interesting how sites label themselves that take on this function.

    – The Press Release is over 100 years old. For the industry to rely on such old donkeys is the beginning of a huge problem. I think the industry views technology merely as a tool. Technology will completely shift PR, Marketing and Advertising, the latter having gone through so many changes in the past decade.

    I know the answer to your question, because that’s what I do. Sorry. Can’t let the cat out of the bag.

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