Platform Communications Views

PR 2.0 – time for fresh thinking in the new digital economy

Gay Bell

This is a critical time for everyone in business and not least for those of us in PR. I saw an advert the other day that said ‘there is no such thing as business as usual’ and that got me thinking about and that got me thinking about how all this forced change could be harnessed for future good.  With strategies in question and budgets under fire there has never been a bigger need for measurable feedback on PR impact and for change to drive PR into a Web 2.0 world.

I will let you into a secret, 2009 is my 25th year in PR. I guess I should be coming over all gravitas like, bemoaning the death of Fleet Street, and talking about the good old days and how much I miss them. But if I’m honest there isn’t a lot to miss, because if I’m really honest, not a lot has changed in PR over the past few decades. Okay so technology has changed some basic working practices – my PC and iPhone make me more efficient, but those changes are not exclusive to PR. Of course, public perception of PR has changed – in the UK we have the Labour party to credit for the rise of ‘spin’ and the media manipulations of reality TV D-listers to thank for ensuring that everyone seems to have an opinion about what PR is.

But as I look at the last 25 years I don’t see a major step change, no fundamental shift at the core. When I started in PR it was a one-to-many form of communications, driven by press releases which were distributed by post and fax (I missed the carrier pigeon and pony express). These press releases were a close kept secret – I remember many a mission to get hold of a competitor press release for a client – it was true industrial espionage and left the hangover of exhibition press rooms with guards on the doors. Then along came the internet, email and the mobile phone – well it was all going to change now wasn’t it? But no, we just replaced the stamp licking and fax jams with email databases, web distribution and SMS, expanding the one to many reach of the press release, without fundamentally changing it. News became global, and announcements public domain – it was change, but not world shattering.

Today, I believe we are at the edge of the first serious change in PR for 25 years. The media environment is undergoing rapid change and the next generation of media producers and consumers want to receive and distribute information in a different way. In fact, this process is already underway in the television and TMT (technology, media and telecommunications) sectors where the race is on to deliver personalized services to consumers. The mass-market adoption of broadband has revolutionized the media and seen a dramatic increase of media outlets, alongside fragmentation of audiences, niche and ultra niche content specializations and the emergence of user generated content.

There is also a new kind of media – social media – that is most commonly understood in the context of blogs, on line communities and social networking. The more savvy media organizations are adapting to the threats and opportunities that social media presents.

PR must evolve to ensure that social media, with its fragmentation of audiences and new intermediaries, becomes an opportunity rather than a threat. I see PR 2.0 as a 360 degree communications platform, blending tried and tested PR methods with new Web 2.0 style tactics to deliver a personalised PR approach that creates individual connections with stakeholders. PR 2.0 converts the traditional passive audience for your messages, into interactive participants that play a role in your story. In PR 2.0 the press release loses primacy and becomes one of many multi-dimensional communication assets, including; Blogging, micromedia blogging (e.g. Twitter), discussion groups, video (YouTube, web-site, etc.), audio (e.g. Podcast), social networking profiles/groups and Wikipedia seeding.

Most importantly, in today’s pressurized economy, PR 2.0 will help companies to exploit the dramatic changes taking place in the digital landscape and deliver relevant messages, closer targeting, higher quality coverage and more visibility – and that’s certainly what success looks like for all of our clients.