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Is public relations heading for an identity crisis?

14th January 2014


PR has changed a lot in recent years as the sector has embraced new ideas and new trends. From social media, to analytics, digital, video and community engagement – public relations professionals now position themselves, rightly in my opinion, as experts across a whole range of stuff, in addition to the tried-and-tested home turf of media relations. But is there a danger that by constantly chasing the “new sexy thing” public relations PROs are not building their new profession on solid foundations? And if they do not, will this either mean that clients will be over-promised and under-fulfilled? Or will PR also leave the door open for PR’s competitors (see SEO agencies, digital agencies, advertising agencies and management consultants) to take PR’s current products and sell them as their own? For example, public relations continues to be paranoid about its measurement. For me this is a fairly simple debate about setting objectives, putting waypoints along the way and seeing if you hit them. But at the mere mention of evaluation I’ve seen intelligent highly paid PR people turn to jelly! Another example is social. PR agencies are currently tripping over themselves to offer an integrated communications solution – but buyers hear this from everyone. For me a more powerful position for a PR agency is to focus on what you can do that digital, SEO, ad agencies, etc, can’t do. There is a clue here – why do we think that ad agencies, digital agencies and SEO agencies are queuing up to position themselves as having a PR offer? To be clear, integration is important, but it should be integration from a public relations perspective – I can’t see the point in PR agencies trying to be something they are clearly not. Especially when actually, PR is currently the sweet spot that other sectors are wanting to move into. Community engagement is another example. In a practical sense, most good community engagement I see requires empathy, common sense and intelligent, fun, and regular content. These are all core skills that PR people should possess by the bucket load. Video is another area where I sense PR people are attempting to be all things to all men. I wouldn’t try and compete with the ad agencies in big sexy videos. Ad agencies are highly likely to be better at this than PR people. But if I wanted a news-related video, or an informative video for my community or network – this is an area where other agencies are simply not going to be able to compete with good PR people. So I’d be wary of the race for a one-stop-shop – it’s a marketing term that very often purchasers don’t want. It seems to me buyers want experts. Specialist experts  

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