Tuesday, September 15

Defining People: How Publicity, PR, And SM View The World

The Buzz Bin's Geoff Livingston wrote an open letter to PR execs entering social media that caused a stir among various communication professionals. It's an interesting piece that helps to pinpoint various emerging views on social media.

At the core of the letter, Livingston suggests everyone wants better outcomes, but the methods are different. But for anyone not immersed in communication, the question that remains unanswered is why are the methods so different?

It may have something to do with how publicity, public relations, and social media see the world. Or, more specifically, it might be better to say how they see their audiences or publics, which is not always the customer.

An oversimplified perspective of how professionals see the world.

• World View: Publicity sees the world as its oyster, with every person on the planet as a potential customer or, more correctly, if you reach more people, then you are more likely to reach your customer.
• Method: Do something, anything, that will be covered by as much mainstream media as possible to maximize the exposure. There are bound to be potential customers who see it, somewhere.
• Why It Works: Reach is a powerful, often overemphasized, part of any communication equation.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: Maximizing exposure for the sake of maximizing exposure is often at odds with branding. It tends to see people as mindless masses whose only purpose in life is to be spammed to death, along with the medium that has readership/viewership.

Public Relations.
• World View: Public relations sees the world as a collection of publics, which the organization attempts to develop a relationship with through various programs.
• Method: Plan immediate and long-term communication programs that strengthen the relationship between various groups and the organization. Bonus if the professional can do it in a mutually beneficial way.
• Why It Works: It's planned, measurable, and can change behavior and public opinion.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: All too often, the people practicing public relations are really practicing publicity as if they are the same thing. Another common problem is some public relations professionals forget their publics are fluid, which means any message that reaches one public may not be isolated to that public. The result is that some messages work with one public (like consumers), but alienate other publics (like shareholders and employees). (I once even had one pro tell me that shareholders are never considered a public because that's an investor relations function ... as if.)

Social Media.
• World View: People are individuals looking for personal relationships; and customers are kings.
• Method: Make friends with as many people as possible and those people will do things for you like tell all their friends too.
• Why It Works: It creates relationships, sometimes on a scale of one-to-one and develops a deeper sense of trust between the organization's representative and those individuals.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: It's not easily measured (it is, but many experts claim it isn't or measure the wrong stuff); personalities attract people beyond customers; the organization becomes secondary to the rock stars they fund; lack of leadership (management) leaves brands open for interpretation; and individual blunders reflect on the organization. Too often, some PR pros who really practice publicity attempt to push market people to death in this space. If it can be gamed, it will be gamed.

All three world views can benefit companies, with an integrated approach and minus abuses. Marketing and advertising fit into the equation as well, but there are an equal number of world views in that communication sector as well. (We'll save those for Thursday.)

Unfortunately, an integrated methodology seems to remain in the far off future for most firms as they attempt to transplant their view in an environment where it doesn't belong (or worse, claiming ownership), with publicity crunching numbers, public relations mistaking the Internet as a single public, and social media kissing more BFF butt than Jordon Dizon, according to Eric Cartman. And with this understood, is it any wonder why some executives have a hard time taking communication seriously?


Bill Sledzik on 9/22/09, 2:37 PM said...

Over the years, I've written quite a bit about the glaring differences between PR and marketing. This post underscores my thinking, and it shows -- I believe -- how the social media part of communication aligns more with the mission of PR than with marketing. But in the past 15 years or so, marketing folks have come to appreciate the importance of relationships.

But when push comes to shove, we all show up at work for the same reason: To make our clients or employers more successful. And the only intelligent way to do this is to integrate the communication effort. But that has to be done with PR working in partnership with marketing, not subservient to it.

I worry that if marketing were to become the dominant voice, then communication might well revert back to an asymmetrical approach.

Geoff Livingston and I have had some disagreements over the PR-vs- Marketing thing in the past. But this quote from Geoff's post tells me we may be on the same page in the end:

"So, in parting my friend, please consider your actions and not your image. The image will follow your actions."

Emerson said it another way: What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.

(Sorry to show up so late, Rich. I've really been slacking on the feeder. Thanks to Judy Gombita for reminding me of the post.)

Rich on 9/22/09, 3:52 PM said...

Hey Bill,

Yes, I think all three of us are on the same page in terms of where public relations is or ought to be.

I'm not certain that social media belongs to any communication discipline. To me, it would be paramount to claiming one communication discipline is in charge of the outside. It's more of a location than the population that fills the space.

Love the Emerson quote; it is primary detractor in social media.



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