However you want to describe it, online and social media is playing an important part in shaping the reputation of brands around the world. It’s been doing so for some time now, certainly a few years. The issue at hand though, the one that New Media Knowledge (NMK) raised at their ‘What happens to online PR?’ event last week was if the Public Relations industry was best suited to lead clients through the ever-changing digital media landscape. Led by New Media Age Editor-in-Chief Mike Nutley the NMK team brought together MD and founder of Wolfstar Stuart Bruce, Head of Social Media at iCrossing Anthony Mayfield, Global Head of Digital at Weber Shandwick James Warren and Founder and MD of Content and Motion Roger Warner. A great panel, though apart from Mike, sadly lacking journalists or independent bloggers that make their living from building or knocking down the brands that PRs work so hard on.
On one side we had the argument that PR is and should be just about press and media relations, which is what we were told clients expect from their PR teams or agencies – an outdated thought. Some of those present even claimed that PR agencies find it difficult to re-invent themselves, which is why online PR should be left to niche digital agencies, which “better understood this channel.”
Fifteen years ago this might have been the case when it was all about the technology and not the PR or the message. It was about something new that only a few people understood yet everybody wanted a piece of the action. Not any more though.
On the other side you had those who believe that it’s PRs that should continue guiding clients through the digital world. PRs that have experience in reputation building and management, people who know how integrated communications campaigns work. Who know have experience in developing influence and creating relationships.
The interesting point that came through from the evening was that digital media is still seen as niche and not a communications channel that would be part of any overall campaign planning. Some even complained that within certain agencies, they were seen as an ‘add-on’. They weren’t integrated, mainly because clients had the ‘get me in the FT’ attitude to their work, even though their reputation was more at risk from bloggers and social networkers. Something that is true given that staff in newsrooms around the world are experiencing a bloody cull. But, educating clients and employers takes time.
There was broad agreement on the fact that online and social media is all about credibility. There is a difference between a pastime and a service. Comms teams need to have social media people within, they need to be able to use their knowledge to develop campaigns.
Clients and employers know and are used to buying press relations services, but they need to understand about social and online media. This new channel needs to be quantified and measurement tools need to be refined so that they can understand the importance and influence that it has on audiences that they want to communicate with.
At the end of the day, PRs are here to serve clients, to put on the table solutions to issues they face. Communications is becoming much more integrated, with PR moving more to the centre of decision making, shaping the strategy not just for consumer campaigns, but advertising ones.
Social and online media is a new channel and needs to receive the attention that it deserves.