I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now but somehow struggled to find a catalyst for it.
Then I read the ongoing ‘Trust me, PR is dead‘ debate currently being championed by Robert Philips and it somehow came together.
I understand, and to a point, agree with those of the opposite side to Robert who decry the ‘death of xxxx’ as a tried and tested book selling tactic. However it’s very hard to not to view the current transformation of the public relations sector as one on a scale never been seen before.
The points Robert makes for why PR in its current guise is defunct can also be applied to many industries. In fact, everywhere you look industries are being disrupted. From the consulting sector to financial services Even lawyers, accountants and doctors are going through change. And what’s bringing this on? We now live in a world now in which there are connections between humans and objects on a scale never been seen before.
To think that the nature of communications services that we provide (and called PR or publicity) won’t change is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. The question is what will the services look like.
For a few years now, I’ve closely followed the social business movement. I was lucky enough to work (albeit for a short period) with a consultancy that tasked itself with using social technology to transform the way organisations work. One of the many things I learnt was that the problem the social business movement had was it was largely too ‘technology’ focused and did not give enough weight to how people behave and the culture that governs them. This in turn has spurred some truly thought leading commentary about how organisations of the future should be set up and run. I encourage anyone involved in any form of communication to read the work of Stowe Boyd, Philip Sheldrake, Lee Bryant, the Change Agents community amongst many others.
So what does any of this mean for the everyday PR professional? Well I’m in no way suggesting that PR people flock to become experts on organisational change but as Robert points out and I completely agree, the future of the industry is around public leadership and radical transparency. In my view this is where the future of the communicator lies. Organisations need to change and need help from innovative communicators to do so. In my opinion, understanding what the public expects of an organisation and acting as an agent of change to ensure that the organisation compiles accordingly is primary role. Or on the flip side, delving deep into what makes an organisation truly different and articulating that message to a relevant public. It might not sound different from what PR was originally set up to do and there are a few internal comms pros leading the way, but if we’re all being honest, it’s rarely what agencies and comms departments have actually be doing.
On a practical level, I believe as communicators we need to skill ourselves up in learning about organisational design and operations, analytics, finance as well as getting a deep understanding on the nuances of communications platforms currently in fashion (ie Facebook and Twitter but likely WhatsApp and WeChat tomorrow).
At the very least, the mere fact that the debate has clearly touched a few nerves must surely be a good thing.