At its core, PR is the art of story-telling. We help organisations tell their story in a way which makes people sit up and listen, believe, and want a slice of their action. Once upon a time, we PR advisers focused our efforts on seeking such endorsement from the traditional “trusted” sources – the media, politicians, academics, analysts and celebrities. But the old-fashioned trust economy has faltered and the “age of deference“ as Lord Lawson once said, “is over“. Royalty, religious and government leaders and even the traditional media can no longer automatically expect us to curtsey or doff our cap. We’re now living in the age of reference, spawned by the way the internet eco and ego system is developing.
With the boom of the blogosphere, new political and media structures are forming as online communities share information and debate common issues and values around campfires that can stretch from Teeside to Timbuktu. These pow-wows are now not only thriving in the digital age, they’re driving it.
From the year dot, one of human beings’ basic instincts has been the need to connect, articulate, share and interpret their stories. No wonder, as our geographically rooted communities have fragmented, we’ve built neighbourhoods on the internet.
Perplexed by this communications anarchy, marketing professionals are scratching their heads as to how to manage and engage in these digital pow-wows. At best, you’re looking to see if you can seed and spread positive word-of-mouth; at worst you’re trying to prevent a worldwide whinge. CEOs have a new PA – it’s the PB (the Personal Blogger) – and PR firms have re-engineered their businesses to ensure they monitor story telling online and communicate with the leading online influencers as much, sometimes more than they do with The Sun or The FT.
Advertising agencies have to seriously rethink their proposition too. The era of space invader advertising is almost over. We’re entering an age of Agency Joe Public, where self-expression and personal branding rules, where user-generated content threatens to supersede or even render campaigns redundant.
So should you be losing sleep with apocalyptic anxiety? What can you do to control your story and make sure it’s heard, understood and gives customers that all important reason to believe?
The simple answer is you can’t. In the digital age, the tightest grip is an open hand.
Don’t try to second guess your customer. Define your story as clearly and coherently as possible. Make sure it’s true to who you are and that the people who work in your organisation at every level understand it, believe in it, are proud of it and are empowered to tell it. Tell the same story to your customers and empower them to spread the word. If it’s bad, learn from them and sort the problem out publicly. And, as you continue on your journey of continual improvement, update your story with the help of your PR experts, without an ounce of spin.
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