A quick look back at 2006 and its impact on public relations. This was the year of PR2.0, when blogging, YouTube, SecondLife and social media made the headlines. Although much “talked about”, relatively few PR practitioners seem to have recognised the potential – and the implications for their activities. Will many be prepared to adopt openness and participation in place of the old “command and control” techniques?
Public relations hasn’t been widely welcomed in this “new world” so far – highlighting the need for a new reputation to be forged. Edelman, although gaining points for being prepared to take risks, fell over a couple of ethical hurdles during the year.
The catalyst for wider public awareness of what is going on online has been traditional media – despite the decline in newspaper sales and viewing figures. Word of mouth has been essential for the big stories – offering great potential for PR which should understand the role of opinion leaders, influencers, memorable messages etc.
All this change emphasises the vulnerability of reputation and the power of the internet vis a vis issues and crisis. It has never been easier to create and motivate active publics – PR practitioners need to capitalise on this development to ensure recognition of their strategic value in protecting and building solid reputations.
Many PRs, particularly those in-house, seem nervous of the new developments. It would be good to see more of these folk engaging in online practices, not least encouraging blogs both with media and more generally from their organisations. I’m sure we’ll start to see specialist roles emerge – not just with consultancies seeking to offer new services – but with in-house posts dedicated to online communications.
The PR blogging community in the UK (and networked globally) is growing – good to have seen CIPR President, Tony Bradley, launching his blog this year. Unfortunately, postings haven’t been very frequent and have tended to focus on his overseas travels, but it was a start.
I hope we’ll welcome more PR-oriented bloggers and see increasing recognition of the value of dialogue with publics this coming year. I expect there’ll be more faux pas and online crisis to manage, as well as the challenges of reaching an increasingly cynical, fragmented and diverse range of audiences through more and more media channels, on a 24:7 rolling news basis.
Celebrities and wannabees have continued to dominate too many PR campaigns in 2006. The other popular technique of fear appeals – stimulating panic over obesity, bird-flu, terrorist threats, etc – is likely to continue, unfortunately. I believe the public is becoming resistant to all the doom and gloom, which will just make it harder to influence behavioural change. Maybe listening not just preaching will emerge as a communications trend next year.
I also think PR needs to move beyond the traditional print and written word. This will need greater development of skills in online, broadcast and narrowcasting. We need to think more in terms of movement – word of mouth communications (spreadable messages), video and podcasting and responding to what is being talked about by being pro-active both outside and inside organisations.
Anyway, an interesting year for PR – let’s hope the profession can capitalise on the potential in 2007.