Thursday, November 29, 2007

PR, Social Media and Business

I had coffee this morning with Geoff Livingston of Livingston Communications and author of the Buzz Bin, among other blogs. We're friends from way back in the day- we went to college together back during the Taft Administration. We always have excellent conversations about PR and business, and this morning was no exception. I've been "buzzed" all day thinking about our discussion.

I've never been a bleeding edge innovator, rather an early adopter watching the innovators and trying to figure out how to make money for myself, my clients or my employer.

For example,

I discovered Telnet bulletin boards in 1991
I hopped on the Internet in 1994
I got a cellphone in 1997
I learned to code html and create websites in 1998
I experimented with PostNuke in 2003 but didn't start this blog until this year
I never really MySpaced, joined LinkedIn in 2004, and set up my Facebook profile in July
I don't twitter

All pretty early on, but those are dates that would get me laughed out of a slashdot forum...

The point is...I think this gives me a bit of perspective on some of the hype around social media stuff...

My agency's clients are similarly located in the PR technology lifecycle adoption cycle as me. There is a lot of talk about social media and web 2.0 but budget dollars are only being allocated for things that can have a really defined, measurable affect on the bottom line. ROI is important. Fear stalks the land in many cases- there are too many cases of PR professionals making humiliating, career ending mistakes for them to take a cavalier attitude. But more importantly, most companies, especially the publicly traded ones, are operated so leanly that there isn't much budget and even less time for untried, unproven techniques.

Still, all these new mediums are being looked at carefully. Mass communications is clearly becoming a smaller part of the pie. Just one look at the title of a piece in BusinessWeek on the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi-- "The Struggles of A Mad Man" -- tells you everything you need to know. Everyone knows by now that the ground is shifting to direct (online) marketing and PR, and that the PR playbook is being revised on the fly.

Social media is PR because it has to be earned. You can't buy credibility, authenticity, or community. Without taking the effort of tailoring a company's message to the medium, time, tone, preferences, group dynamics and individual personalities of its prospects, customers, employees, critics, reporters, analysts, editors, cheerleaders and investors in such a way that builds a beneficial relationship with each of them, PR will go the way of the ad guys and struggle for relevance. (you know, coalition building? I'm sure you've heard of it.)

Blogs, twitters and all the future tech advances in communications are merely additional mediums, or tools that allow us the opportunity to "earn our PR". The tools have changed over the centuries, and will continue to do so. The basic concept, and purpose, of PR remains the same (cue Led Zeppelin).

PR, when done properly, is a pain in the ass. To do it right, you have to really, really love it. Still, too many PR shops cut the corners and brainlessly mass email a media list, make fifty calls, leave fifty voice mail messages and then call it a day. I don't know what you call this, but it ain't PR.
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