2006 and public relations

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.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

7 thoughts on “2006 and public relations”

  1. Embracing the social media demonstrates confidence and a willingness to listen, learn and converse. It means a change of culture for many businesses that like to keep their cards close to their chest, it will take time to adapt and will not suit everyone. Let’s hope that more companies will start blogging in 2007 and see that the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Happy New Year Heather.

  2. Real Good Stuff. Nicely presented. Simply marvellous. I like it.
    Also one can find such good stuff at http://www.infomailers.in, which is also a new-age Corporate Newswire that distributed corporate news items to more than 6,000 journalists across Print, Electronic & Internet media, across India.
    InfoMailers.com also distributes news items via email to more than 300,000 Indian net users including 8,500+ top-notch industry leaders from CII, FICCI, PHDCII, ASSOCHAM and NASSCOM etc. on a real-time basis.
    A news item once added to InfoMailers.com system remains there for ever and is never ever taken off. It is invariably crawled by all major search engines.
    Do give it a try. HAPPY NEW YEAR !
    Armaan Sharma

  3. Happy New Year everyone!

    Word of mouth has been fascinating me recently. One of the first historic accounts of such wildfire messege transfer dates back to 1775 when a young boy in America overheard a British soldier saying: ‘there will be hell to pay tomorrow.’ Such was the power of WoM that the people of Lexington were ready when the British marched in. From that exchange came the war that was known as the American Revolution.

    The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell – great book has anybody else read it?

  4. Thanks for all your comments. Armaan – useful link, I am working with some distance learners for the CIPR PR Diploma based in India, so will see if they are aware of this site.

    Jill – I am a big fan of The Tipping Point – although it is easier to report case studies than initiate effective word of mouth strategies as there can be so many intangible factors that make something “tip”. I enjoyed “Blink” by him as well, although the blog isn’t as stimulating.

  5. Malcolm Gladwell details the three types of people that transfer information by word of mouth. I’m not sure how the revival of the Hush Puppies could have been attributed solely to word of mouth mind you. A dying brand ostracised to backwater outlets suddenly revived up on the catwalks – just a case of good luck?

    Blink? My next read perhaps!

  6. If I remember the Hush Puppies example, it was about how the take up of the shoes by some cool kids was then picked up by other influencers and hence became trendy again. This is entirely different to PR and marketing people trying to re-create this type of spontaneous “tipping”. Gladwell proposes that by using maverns, connectors and salespeople as influencers, “tipping” can be stimulated. But as with most effective word of mouth, the issue is about being genuine and relying on the strong reputation of these infuencers. Red Bull famously used “brand advocates” on University campuses who are paid to organise parties etc – and I suppose things like Tupperware and Anne Summers parties are using similar networks. Here people know they are being marketed to so there isn’t an issue – but how would you feel if a friend recommended a movie and you found out they’d been paid to do it? The PR approach would be more about ensuring influencers are willing and able to “spread” your message – but this should be by ethical means. Which brings us around to bloggers and Edelman/Microsoft as per the other posting.

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