The Evolving Role of PR

The contours of the public relations discipline are expanding rapidly due to the confluence of several factors, including the widespread adoption of social technologies, the democratization of the media, changing societal expectations and globalization. Here are four lenses through which to view the shift occurring within our field:

1. Moving from Supply to Demand
For decades, brands and companies used the PR function to pump out news — a company’s supply of announcements — to their audiences. That one-to-many push of information worked when a limited number of mass media outlets controlled and delivered the news. Today, much of this “supply side” of news is seen as self-serving and all about the brand, not about the consumer, who wants marketing to be about his or her own interests. Attaching your brand to news and pop culture is playing to the demand side of news — information and entertainment that people are already interested in. This requires a communications function that is constantly listening and evaluating what your target audience is talking about, i.e., trending topics that can provide a platform for your brand.

2. Understanding the New Definition of News
News used to be a destination that you sought out: the evening news program or the morning paper, for instance. Now, with millions of sources of news, and everyone functioning as a publisher, a different definition of news has emerged: something important enough to find me (click to tweet). Have you noticed how fast news of a national tragedy reaches you today? Most often, it’s via a text or a Facebook post or a tweet, not by tuning into CNN or other news networks. This is “something important enough to find you.” This dynamic requires that the communications function create news and content that is powerful enough for people to send along to their friends. The all-powerful network used to be called NBC or CBS. Now the most powerful network is called “my friends” or “someone I trust.”

3. Creating Content That Matters
The explosion of self-publishing has led to an overwhelming tsunami of content pollution (click to tweet). There’s way too much out there. Ad agencies are still pumping out tons of brand-centric messaging that looks great on a creative reel but is too slick and self-centered to grab audiences. The news origins of PR are an advantage here because we’ve always needed to win over a gatekeeper — editor or producer — for our content to appear anywhere. These skills are valuable now that the gatekeeper and the consumer are one in the same. This requires communications ideas that can always pass this question about the target: Will she care and will she share?

4. Embracing Extreme Transparency
Everyone sees everything today, and everyone has a platform for his or her personal views. Critics, competitors, even your own employees will turn you in if you try to exaggerate a health claim or hide a misbehaving executive. Smart companies — those that listen to their communications counsel — will embrace this extreme transparency and use it to do everything better. The sign in the London Tube applies: “Mind the Gap” between your brand promises and your brand’s ability to deliver.