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Sunday, December 23, 2007

How Online Worlds May Beat Some Bad Things Out of PR (and marketing)

Once I met a British colleague at a dinner table who said that he would like to do the "real thing" from time to time, "not just PR, because PR is about painting things". I felt both sorry for him and angry because this is what most people think of PR. Our profession is flooded with too many persons who have built their careers on polishing what they or their clients "seem to be" and not developing what they "really are". As many of them will not be able to reorient themselves towards different kind of professionalism, they will continue dragging the industry to the depths of disrespect.

And it does not help that you switch from a golden pen to Iphone or toss out the leather couches to replace them with creative office design, since this will again be about form, not about content. It does not help either that you erect your consultancy in Second Life or anywhere else, because there your inability shows even more easily. Online worlds are places where crap is revealed especially fast. Every information can be checked. Bending truth and just seeming someone you are actually not, is not easy any more, although in the beginning you may feel that you can hide your real identity online.

I believe that online environments are leading the attitude change here and the same type of skepticism towards empty brand promises and hollow pr will soon be imported back to the "real life", since the online inhabitants are the front-runners of the culture that wants to see two things in information - relevance and quality.

Of course, I am aware that I may sound as a naive technological determinist here and indeed, there are many obstacles to a larger scale changes in PR. First, the PR people themselves... many of them will continue carrying on practices in ways they have been used to, even though this may eventually damage both the clients interests and their own reputation. But for many it is not easy to change.

Second, the history. Since many things have worked in the past, these old examples are still copied over and over into modern PR and marketing practices. Take the political PR for example, where many leading politicians have not noticed that certain types of spin are getting more counterproductive by the day and you have less and less time to get away with your half-truth. Be it Bill Clinton, George W. Bush from U.S. or a leading politician from Estonia, no big differences there.

Third, the lack of well communicated vision. Half jokingly - have you ever seen a movie with a "good" PR person? Often these guys are worse than evil itself and unfortunately their prototypes deserve it. Start from the China Syndrome, continue with all the modern wagthedogs there are. There was one more or less positively idealistic political campaign lady in the Primary Colors, but she shot herself and Al Pacino character did something good in the end of The People I Know and was killed as well. Ok, the Phone Booth guy was transferred to an arguably better person but a gunman was needed for that. Sometimes I think that this is a self generating system, a wheel that never stops, bad PR practices deserve to be in these movies but then they somehow attract more bad people into the industry.

Fourth, it takes time to form new visions, to put them into practice, to test them, to teach it. The potential of PR requires absolutely new skills and world outlook. It requires understanding that form and content can not be separated. It means that you can no longer only "seem", you also need to "be". It would be wrong to say that being and seeming are exactly same things, but they are inseparable and thus they need to be translated into each other with maximum accuracy. Of course, you may point out many instances in modern world where spin actually works, but then I will probably be able to show you the price of it.

Fifth, of course there are pathways for operating in old ways in online environments too. Audiences can be fooled, search results misled and faked. It is more difficult, but if you really want, then some can survive with this and some may even get rich.

People occasionally turn to me and wonder, how can I claim something like that, being a PR person myself. That is a sad question, because it underlines that people often have no idea what kind of a potential communication industry actually has nor do they know that rather different PR practices can be found across the world. For that reason we have used terms PR 1.0 and PR 2.0 in our Estonian offices to mark the difference (forgive me that they sound a bit stupid, if you have any better ideas, please let me know!).

Yet many progressive PR concepts have been worded already in the eighties, take the principles of symmetric communication by James E. Grunig and his colleagues for example, but I think that we are reaching the time where these are just not nice ideas but a necessity.

And fortunately I know that there are still lots of PR people with new ideals and will to reform the practices and the best news is that I have seen how communication advisory can change the world for better. And there are tens of thousands of people in online environments, both PR people by profession or just smart guys, who have figured out the rules of the game already.

You may argue and this is just a hypothesis, but in marketing the same trend shows with the rising popularity of things that just do not have a brand stamped on, but have the brand built in it. Not to mention the cliche of Apples and Ipods, but have a look at clothes that have no visible labels on them or take for example my Tokyoflash watches that do not need to have any label on it in order to be desirable for me.

Will the importance of logo decline because the unique essence of a product is more important than "seeming"?


Tarmo said...

Huvitav jutt jällegi. Mul endal tekkis postitust lugedes järgmine mõttekäik. Igasuguse info kättesaadavus suurendab kindlasti kriitiliste tarbijate (ka infotarbijate) hulka ühiskonnas, kellega ei saa formaalsed (suurfirmad, parteid jne) ega ka informaalsed organisatsioonid enam nii kergelt manipuleerida kui varem. Pakun, et lähema paarikümne aasta jooksul jõuame olukorda, kus infotarbijad valdavad praktiliselt samasugust infot kui info pakkujad. Praktikas tähendab see ettevõtete jaoks seda, et kui su toode on halb või su firmas valitseb halb töökliima, siis teavad seda nii tarbijad kui ka sinu võimalikud tulevased töötajad. Muutused leiavad aset siis kui organisatsioonid informatsiooni vaba kulgemise tagajärgi enda nahal tunnevad. Põhiküsimuseks on minu nägemuses enda vigade aktsepteerimine, millest oleneb ka see, kas organisatsioonid on valmis muutuma või mitte. Sama puudutab ka üksikisikuid.


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