Let me be candid upfront. Historically, advertising people did not always have the highest regard for those who practiced Public Relations (PR). The take was that the advertising and marketing people felt that they did the heavy lifting when it came to getting a brand recognition and acceptance while the PR people would get a blurb in a local newspaper and be strutting while sitting down about what they had accomplished. Some found them to be such lightweights that behind their backs they referred to PR staffers as “the flak.”
Well. Having said that, I am convinced that things will change somewhat over the next several years. Of the seven pillars of Integrated Marketing Communications (Advertising, Direct Marketing, Internet Marketing, Promotion, Public Relations, Publicity, and Personal Selling), Advertising is clearly on the decline. Commercial avoidance continues to get stronger with each measurement period as more of use our DVR, watch Netflix or Amazon Prime or simply have another device going when advertising appears. So, conventional advertising simply is not and cannot work as well as it once did even a decade ago. Something has to pick up the slack among the remaining Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) pillars. While each brand or service will have a different mix of IMC components, I would bet that a surprise gainer in the emerging new reality will be PR.
Why PR? Studies in recent years have clearly illustrated that adults are increasingly getting cynical about advertising. This is especially true of millennials who rely heavily on social media, Amazon reviews, and the opinions of friends before making purchases. PR, executed properly, can help a company. Remember, PR is not a 30 second spot or a print ad. It is a PROCESS by which a company can assess where they stand with any number of their publics--consumers, employees, shareholders, government, the media and their local communities and then take action to repair perceptions. Essentially, it is a long game. A company in the 21st century needs to refine and rebuild its reputation continually. Running and hiding from the press only raises more issues than it solves. Meet with your opponents be they political, press or community groups. Today, we live in a 24/7 world of communication. If you let outside groups know who you are and what explicitly that you stand for, you will likely come out way ahead of what advertising (as we know it) could ever do for you.
Finally, a few words about “spin.” The late presidential speechwriter and wordsmith William Safire defined spin as a “deliberate shading of news perception; attempted control of political reaction.” PR people are often referred to as “spin-doctors” who can put a positive face on anything. Sometimes, they get away with it but it appears to be less so today. True PR pros put the best foot forward of their client but they should never spin. Remember when as a child you were told something to the effect that if you tell a lie you will eventually have to tell 10 more to cover it up? Well, in the business world that is oh so true when it comes to spin. As PR guru Fraser Seitel put it, “The crisis will hurt you, but the cover-up will kill you.” If you always tell the truth, even the painful truth, you never have to keep track of what you have said in the past. Spin is manipulation and people today, especially millennials, do not want to feel as if they are being toyed with or lied to in any way.
So, keep an eye on PR. Perhaps upgrade your PR staff or service provider. It may prove to be inexpensive and effective over the next decade.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org