It has become such a big part of public relations that there is even some ground swell over the notion that public relations could eventually "be the media" with equal footing. And why not?
Some firms even say that it's essential if businesses want to "reassume direct control over their reputations and news flow." Others say that it's a surefire solution "to become a producer as opposed to a facilitator" and earn a larger piece of the MarComm budget. And yet others think that in doing so, they can "skip the media middle man all together." It might even be vital to do so in some cases.
Being the media is not an evolutionary step for public relations.
You don't have to subscribe to the notion of content shock to see a real problem with companies attempting to circumvent the media. The real problem is that it moves public relations away from its core tenet to strengthen the relationships between the organization and various publics in favor of a top-down communication — the same one that social was once purported to solve once and for all.
It also changes the perspectives, objectives, and outcomes of the communication. As quasi media, companies are incentivized to measure the reach, engagement, and conversion outcomes over programs designed to ensure mutually beneficial and measurable outcomes for the organization and its publics. And while it's true both efforts can work in tandem, the thinking is light years apart.
Reputable public relations teams would never view the media as a 'middle man' but rather as one of its very important publics — a reasonably objective (hopefully) voice that assists in bringing clarity to important issues, even those that are relatively niche. They also also understand that the increasingly diminished role of the media leaves an organization front and center as a direct source that must compete for attention against anyone who is looking for link clicks.
In other words, skipping the so-called media middle man further fragments communication, with each organization vying for its share of spotlight. It also opens up cause for corporations to supplant independent news, justified by the mistaken belief that the concept of objective journalism is a myth.
It seems nowadays that many public relations professsionals (and journalists) fail to understand that objective journalism works because the method is objective, not necessarily the journalist. And when objective journalism is allowed to work, it serves organizations and the public by vetting any claims, setting the agenda, and supporting the truth when the facts are paramount to the public good.
The evolutionary next step of public relations is collaboration.
Don't misunderstand the message here. Content marketing, social media, and corporate journalism have become vital components for any communication plan. But all of these tactics work best when they are employed in tandem with media relations, public relations, and other collaborations — something that even marketers see as having tangible value across multiple media venues.
Sure, I've always been an advocate for integrated communication, direct-to-public public relations, and teaching public relations professionals to think like a journalist. And at the same time, when it comes to public relations specifically, I also remind students that the simplest definition of the field is to transform "us and them" into "we," which would include a shrinking pool of pure journalists.