Is public relations out of touch?

backsoonLast December, Judy Gombita wrote about the pressures on PR practitioners and social businesses to remain in touch throughout the traditional Western holiday season – or at least to provide information on their availability.

One year on, and it seems most PR people are out of touch at this time of year. Their email bounce backs indicate in some cases, they are away from the office for up to three weeks. Indeed, the holiday period seems to stretch from Friday 14 December to Monday 14 January.

Of course, email is only one element of PR communications and many people work in teams, so share cover. But there’s a distinct impression that even with the advent of social media, public relations is largely out of touch.

The latest news on PR Week is around one week old now. The most recent posts at PR Moment are even older. Does this indicate an acceptance that there’s no point in talking with PR practitioners once the party season kicks in?

When I began working in PR around 20 years ago, I viewed the period between Christmas and New Year as a key time for reaching people. Back then, it meant preparing ideas in advance which the media could fit into their schedules. When I worked for a vehicle breakdown company, we issued fun seasonal stories, various weather related driving facts and advice, or reviews and forecasts, for example.

When mobile phones became more common, it was possible to have out of office contact (before then, it was usual for home numbers to be included in releases or provided to key media). Email made it possible to issue stories even when away from the desk (rather than relying on unpredictable Christmas post). Laptops and ftp enabled uploading of topical stories onto the internet.

Today we have the immediacy of social media – always on, demanding hyper connectivity from PR practitioners, or so we are led to believe. Perhaps this time of year provides a valuable silence, which I wrote about at PR Conversations in September. We all need to relax, get away from the everyday pressures and allow for calm reflection. Silent night – or a month maybe – without the cacophony of PR communications?

However, Twitter (or Instagram) shots of ‘celebs’ in their Christmas jumpers, onesies or swimwear on Caribbean getaways, shows this shade of PR has not taken a break.

Our marketing colleagues have also tapped into the shopping season. There was a seamless shift from advertising (offline and online) Christmas gifts, to last-minute vouchers, to Christmas day online shopping opportunities to full blown Sales. Promotional PR ran alongside this linear process.

Undoubtedly – or hopefully, crisis plans are in place should PR be called upon to handle some unforeseen issue over this period. The crush of meetings before the wind-down actioned planning and budgeting for 2013. Some PR people will be in the office catching up or looking ahead, making good use of this quiet period.

Others will be working in countries where the year end/start is business as usual. This is increasingly important in a 24:7 interconnected world. We need to be aware of the holiday periods in different parts of the planet. Many of these now extend into holiday weekends, providing opportunities for engagement rather than simply staying out of touch.

There are arguments both for and against a rest over the festive season – although it seems a contradictory modern phenomenon to go slow for up to a month when globalisation, multi-cultural communities and social media challenge us to be ever available.

I’ve always felt that PR blurs practitioners’ personal and professional lives, but I’m not clear whether I am out of touch given the tendency for many to be literally out of touch over the holidays.