First off, a piece of personal news: today marks my last day at SHIFT Communications. It has been a great ride and I am leaving some friends, particularly a great team, behind, What’s next? It is too early to tell tales, but my next move is sure to include explicit responsibilities relating to social media. I believe social media is only going to take more and more of our time, attention and resources- whether “we” toil in PR, marketing, advertising, or numerous other departments. In fact, that thinking leads me to the meat of this post; rather than talk about my own moves (though I will be sure to update here once I have decided on my next step), I thought I would take a gander at where public relations is and how I think it, and its related disciplines, are changing.
Isn’t this a better idea than an “End of Year” list or “2010 Predictions” post? I
think so. Even if you don’t, let me have it in comments.
I’ll start by saying that I am making no declarations or writing a manifesto here- but stating my observations. If you think that’s the same thing, cheers.
- Public Relations as Media Relations Mill is Coming to an End
Public relations agencies have actually made progress in scaling down the mass-spamming of media targets, at least in my experience (that’s not the same as saying it’s gone, of course). However, the reliance on media relations as the backbone of PR agency work seems to be getting its oxygen only from client demands to be in this or that publication. When clients deprive us of that oxygen, we will be freer (or forced) to pitch our talents in other areas: strategy, social media, content creation and other more creative, effective pursuits. I can say from experience that clients are already clamoring for more strategic counsel vs. more of the same ol’ media relations. That’s a great, early sign of what may come.
- PR Agencies Must Catch Up to Each Other in Social Media Know-How
Some agencies “got it” early, and I have been lucky enough to work for two–SHIFT Communications and Topaz Partners– over the last several years. Other agencies, including larger ones, have caught up (have they?). Is the next step that the early leaders dart out ahead on the Next Big Thing? Or do larger agencies scale up their social media services to the point where it’s a standard discipline? I would love to see the former- and I think we are already seeing the latter (witness Edelman, no slouch in social media awareness anyway, and its recent hire of David Armano).
The opportunities to teach social media and create more awareness among clients, agency talent, and the industry at large is still there. If anything, the audience has increased and is hungrier.
- We Won’t Figure Out Measurement, or Will We?
I am fond of saying that PR should own social media because we have had decades of practice in not being able to figure out measurement. Social media was made for us? Of course, we can figure out measurement- the only question is do we want to, and do we want to do it in a way that will show clear benefits to clients? I will continue to pay attention to the likes of Katie Paine to try and stay on top of this important, untamed aspect of the PR industry. I will definitely be working harder on measurement in 2010.
- “Personal Brand” Should be Recognized for What it Is: a Networking and Reputation Boon for Companies
Here in Boston, when I go to events, I am used to the fact that typically, very few PR agencies are represented at the events. Good old-fashioned face-to-face networking is a must– and the people that use social media to build up their own “brand” or whatever you want to call it would be foolish to squander that on online pursuits only. I’m not talking about traveling to conferences if you don’t have the budget- but I can’t say enough about the value of that- I am talking even more about what you can do without a big budget: impromptu “Tweet-ups” and other gatherings- especially to greet visitors from out-of-town; local industry events, whether they be for PR/Marketing groups or for clients’ vertical industries.
The most visible agencies will win that battle in each city. In Boston, I would argue that mantle is up for grabs. Looking back to my earlier paragraph, many PR folks know more about PR than others know. Time to stop hiding that light under a bushel.
- Will PR, Marketing, Advertising and other Functions Merge?
That’s a fascinating question. I watch to see if companies look at “full-service” agencies, or if social media becomes a set of tool fitting the needs of the separate disciplines (include customer service and even sales in that group), which remain distinct. I lean toward the latter. PR and advertising, in particular, want to hold on to their at times diametrically opposed views on earned vs. paid attention, and how social media serves that. I continue to be entertained and educated by the stories of PR efforts that strike a wrong chord- or even anger customers, as well as advertising efforts upended by creative that is too clever for its own good, at the expense of relevance and engagement.
Who will win? I don’t think we need a winner.
On to 2010
Will I stay in PR? I think there is a lot of unfinished work I could attend to, whether at agencies or in-house. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to redefine what I do- does it make sense to pursue positions that have more specific social media responsibilities? I think so- now is the time. What form that takes is a matter of time, people and opportunity- and there is a lot of that right now. 2010 is going to be a great and fascinating year.