Are PR firms too slow to get Social Media?

Daniela handed me her copy of the summer edition of the Public Relations Strategy magazine (retail $39.95). The feature story is on Blogs, and the first paragraph leads off with this:

 “It wasn’t east figuring out the Web. Many argue that the PR profession was too slow to grasp the importance of the internet, a costly mistake hat handed control of company Websites over to IT departments and advertising agencies”

The PR professionals I know (or the recovering ones) that do deploy Social Media are few and far in between.  Friends I know that are PR professionals agree that there’s resistance to change, lack of awareness or a general disinterest.

I think this time around, if PR groups don’t step up to take leadership of corporate social media, it may drift to the hands of Web Marketing folks or Product Teams.

A few months ago Robert was the keynote (and I ran a Social Media track) at the Ragan PR conference (read day 1 and day 2).  It was closed by a podcaster.  To me this was a real indicator that the PR industry was getting ready to understand the changes.  (I suspect people at NewComm, like Jen McClure had a lot to do with pushing this awareness of social media)

Sadly, during one of the sessions, one PR professional asked “What’s a link?” I cringed. 

  • Nice post. With the possible exception of advertising, I can’t think of another business-services industry that is experiencing more disruption than PR. Media are now inherently social. The tools and techniques necessary to communicate effectively and en masse with the “public” are fundamentally different today than they were even a few years ago. Furthermore, the mindset required of the people in the industry is in some respects diametrically opposed to what once was demanded of PR professionals. Given these substantial points of friction it’s not surprising there is a lot of resistance and denial. That doesn’t mean change isn’t inevitable, it just means it’s going to be really, really difficult for a lot of people and firms. The good news is that this means the opportunities for firms and individuals that get it are enormous.

  • Thanks Ben, I checked out your blog post, thanks man!

  • Hi Jeremiah,
    You’ve zeroed in on a crucial question. However, I have a different answer to it than the one I usually hear.

    Recently, I’ve been to several conferences where PR people and advertising people engage in a vigourous discussion of “who owns social media – PR or advertising?” Frankly, I think the future belongs to the firms that leave behind their traditional view of what they are and instead morph into something new that incorporates social media and its mores into their world view.

    I believe this so much that I’m putting my money where my mouth is. You’ve probably seen the new Thornley Fallis http://www.thornleyfallis.com and 76design http://www.76design.com websites. These are both designed around social media – putting the people in the firm front and centre and inviting our community to create our space with us.

    So far, I think we are ahead of the mainstream communication market. But I believe that we are planted in the centre of what will be the new normal.

    So, for me, it’s not that we are a PR firm that gives us an advantage with social media. It’s really about the fact that we’ve embraced the norms and perspective of social media and immersed ourselves in it.

    IMHO, that’s the only way that PR people or advertising people will be able to prosper in the future.

  • Hey Jeremiah, long time no speak.

    Joe’s also “putting his money where his mouth is” in another respect, btw: he hired me 🙂

    OK, so that’s a lame gag – Joe and his colleagues were already at the forefront of social media adoption in Canadian PR circles long before I joined.

    To my point: I think you’re absolutely right that PR people need to step up and take a leadership role in corporate adoption of social media, although I don’t think that the involvement of PR necessarily precludes or negates the involvement of other marketing disciplines.

    If you’re involved in any aspect of marketing, corporate communications, customer service, product management (or pretty much any other part of the firm) and in possession of a clue, I think it’s pretty much your duty to help your company avoid making the mistakes companies like Sony continue to make.

    Having said that, I do think right-thinking PR people should be well-suited to lead the charge for social media adoption.

    Not all PR people, but the kind of practitioners who fall into the category David Weinberger helpfully defined as the “Connectors” (as opposed to the “Spinners”). The kind of PR people who subscribe to the Ivy Lee school of thought, when he said:

    “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want”

  • Joseph

    You have my absolute respect in many ways, you get ‘it’.

    I think the real owners of social media are neither PR or Advertising, it’s the people that are participating.

    Those that participate first are usually the ‘commoners’ now followed by corporations.

    Community relations is going to come out of many departments. Jenn McClure suggests the new role of PR is to teach all these groups how to engage the public.

  • Michael

    Congrats on the new role! I enjoyed that link to the Sony debacle. It was a blog post this morning and I linked to you.

    Joe and yourself are the model practitioners that should be praised for your ability to lead and demonstrate the correct way for companies to enter the conversations.

    If I have offended you in any way, please accept my apologies, this was simply an outgrowth of conversations that I have social media folks nearly every week.

    The trust of the matter is, I believe that by end of 2007, every PR firm will have deployed social media.

  • Jeremiah – absolutely no need to apologize in the slightest. Really. You didn’t offend either of us even remotely – I guess you could characterize our responses as “heated agreement”.

    True story: Joe walked into my office yesterday afternoon and said: “bring up a browser, I want to show you something”. I duly clicked on the first Firefox instance that happened to be sitting in my taskbar, which popped open to the page I’d been viewing: your blog post. Bizarre moment – Joe had come in to talk to me about the exact same post of yours I had been reading not five minutes before. We’d been having a mutual Owyang moment.

    So. In short: I think both Joe and I were trying to agree with you. My apologies by return if we gave the impression we felt offended in any way. Quite the opposite.

    One point in your last comment, however, I would challenge. Working from the inside here, I have to say that I will be very, very surprised if your prediction about the rate of adoption in PR firms comes true. There are still PR firms out there who have “No Blogging” policies in place. I’m not kidding.

    The real question, though, is not whether the majority of firms will have deployed social media by the end of 2007 – I think it’s going to be more interesting to watch how many of them get it right. As we’ve seen with the Edel*Mart fiasco, even the very best agencies seem to be spectacularly adept at shooting themselves in the foot. There, but for the grace of God…

  • Michael, thanks for this clarification. I have tremendous respect for Joe, as do my peers as a thought and practice leader.

    Heh, an Owyang moment huh?

    I’m starting some 2007 predictions…some of this conversation may be in there.

    Thanks again!

  • Nice post. With the possible exception of advertising, I can't think of another business-services industry that is experiencing more disruption than PR. Media are now inherently social. The tools and techniques necessary to communicate effectively and en masse with the “public” are fundamentally different today than they were even a few years ago. Furthermore, the mindset required of the people in the industry is in some respects diametrically opposed to what once was demanded of PR professionals. Given these substantial points of friction it's not surprising there is a lot of resistance and denial. That doesn't mean change isn't inevitable, it just means it's going to be really, really difficult for a lot of people and firms. The good news is that this means the opportunities for firms and individuals that get it are enormous.