Has PR come back to the future?

Has PR come back to the future?

We all enjoyed reading a recent piece by Alistair Campbell (shared with us by good friend Richard Bailey @behindthespin). The man gets a lot of stick but his piece made some excellent points about PR.  It got  Chris Tucker, course leader on our CIPR Diploma courses thinking......  Chris shares her thoughts below:

"I had a bit of a light bulb moment while reading Alistair Campbell’s speech in Australia published in the Huffington Post when he called for PR practitioners to lift their eyes from tomorrow’s media headlines towards focusing more on reputation and encouraging their organisations to do the right thing.  Campbell had been impressed when a visa problem he had been experienced was instantly sorted by him Tweeting his frustration.

At the same time as reading Alistair Cambell’s words I was also reviewing students answers to a recent CIPR PR Diploma assignment asking them to discuss this quote from Arthur W. Page: “Public Relations, therefore, is not publicity only, not management only, it is what everybody in the business from top to bottom says and does when in contact with the public.”  For those who don’t know Arthur Page was one of the first recognised corporate communicators and held the position of Vice President of Public Relations at AT&T.  He was writing in 1939.  So has PR come back to the future and if so why?

Some of the answer is the familiar one covered also by Alistair Campbell in his speech: namely the rise of social media.  One of the most accepted definitions of PR is the one advanced by the CIPR that PR is about the management of reputation.  But that was difficult to do without an accurate handle on what people were saying and thinking about your organisation.  It was also difficult to do without a way of instantly responding to those beliefs and experiences.  Other and more recent definitions have looked at PR as managing relationships.  But relationships are two-way.  Both sides have to have their say.  It looks therefore as if the two-way, conversational aspects of social media then have made true PR as many of the academics see it become a reality.  Or as social media gurus, Brian Solis and Deidre Breakenridge, titled their book: social media is “Putting the public back into public relations.

I like to think that another part of the answer is the increasingly professional nature of PR practitioners themselves.  PR degrees and qualifications have helped but perhaps more significant is the recognition by organisations that the public’s trust and sentiment towards an organisation is key to its success.  Especially in a world where brand and, yes, reputation determine buying behaviour.  Campbell has a point when he in effect says an organisation might as well do the right thing the first time as it won’t get away with the wrong thing for long.  There is a powerful role for us PRs to play in helping organisations work out what that right thing is.  Given our focus on our internal and external stakeholders who else is better placed?

Finally, the disruption of the old ways of communicating has to be the best opportunity we have had for quite some time to make the voice of PR heard in a more strategic way.  So next time we are asked to get something out on Twitter or are told we need a Facebook page (or whatever) we need to remember to listen as much as to talk; to advise as much as to do; to think strategy rather than tactics.  Or to paraphrase Alistair: lay back and think of the Queen of England."